For the third year in a row, Stanford received an A- in the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s annual Green Report Card, earning it an “Overall College Sustainability Leader” designation. The report card reflects a surge in sustainability initiatives on campus, but both the administration and student leaders believe there is much room for improvement.
Stanford’s scores in the annual report card have been steadily rising over the last five years. This year, it earned an A in eight out of the nine categories, and the overall A- grade places Stanford on par with Harvard and Princeton, while Yale earned an A and Cal a B+.
Notably, Stanford raised its climate and energy score from a B to an A this year. Fahmida Ahmed, director of the Office of Sustainability, credited this improvement to the school’s new energy and climate plan, which was released in late 2009. According to the fact sheet online, the plan proposes that by 2020, Stanford will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels and its domestic water consumption by 18 percent.
“We now have a path that we will follow to reduce our emissions systematically and progressively,” Ahmed said.
Stanford received a C in the endowment transparency category, which is the same grade it has gotten in that category since 2007. This appears to be a trend among Stanford’s peer universities, many of which have similar reports with straight As except for a C or D in endowment transparency.
“That’s a complex issue to try to tackle,” said Molly Oshun, ’11, president of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS). “But given the size and influence of our university, endowment transparency has the potential to influence a lot of investment policies across the country and across the globe. So I think moving that step forward…would be a really big improvement.”
The report also suggests that Stanford has been focusing its sustainability efforts more on large-scale projects than at an individual level. In response, student groups on campus are working to engage the student population this year with a number of important new initiatives. SSS has just started a Green Events Consulting Program, which will pair up trained SSS students with student organizations to help make campus events more sustainable. This spring, the Green Alliance for Innovative Action and the ASSU are collaborating with the Student Organizing Committee for the Arts to produce a three-day arts festival focused on local and global sustainability challenges.
There are also long-term goals to create a green-living themed dormitory on campus, complete with sustainable technology, and SSS has also proposed to add a “sustainable civilizations” option to the Global Citizenship GER requirement. Their proposal is currently under review.
Overall, the leaders in the sustainable Stanford movement are optimistic.
“There is exponential growth in student interest,” said Theo Gibbs ’11, ASSU executive chair of sustainability initiatives. “Students are thinking about [sustainability] more because there are a lot of classes touching on these issues, and student initiatives have a high visibility on campus.”
Ahmed agreed about growing interest on campus.
“I see interest everywhere,” she said. “I see faculty more open to collaboration, and staff working harder than ever to make sure everything they do is integrated with the principles of sustainability. People know that sustainability is a priority for the University.”
Ahmed urged students not to be complacent about their part in promoting a green Stanford.
“No student should feel helpless,” Ahmed said. “Individual action combined can make a huge impact. Every action counts. Every bit counts.”