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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

SEA Change: Grading sustainibility

Published: October 9, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot</i>

ILLUSTRATION BY Andrea Fishman/The Hoot

Yesterday, Student for Environmental Action proudly welcomed Mark Orlowski, director and founder of the Sustainable Endowment Institute, to campus. The Sustainable Endowment Institute is a nonprofit organization that grades universities using a “Green Report Card” based on sustainability ratings. One of these criteria is endowment transparency, or how accessible information about endowment investment holdings and shareholder proxy voting records are to students and the public.

For the 2009 report card, Brandeis received a B- in overall sustainability, with an F on endowment transparency. In addition to highlighting the importance of sustainability on campus, Orlowski discussed why we received our unfortunate grade and how we can work towards a more transparent endowment plan.

Orlowski spoke the day after the organization released their 2010 report card. The new account includes updated profiles of schools, surveys and the manner in which schools responded to their initial score. Brandeis boasts a climate action plan to reduce gas emissions by 15% of level produced in 2008 by 2015. Furthermore, by 2050 the University plans to achieve climate neutrality.

Endowment transparency is one of the three major campaigns that SEA is working on this semester. Heading the effort on Endowment Transparency is Matt Grabenya ’13. When asked to elaborate on the importance of transparency, Gabrenya notes, “[It is essential] to know that you’re not supporting or doing business with companies whose policies and actions are socially abhorrent. Or if you are, that you as a shareholder can act in order to change their procedures. We should be using the power we have as shareholders towards socially responsible causes.”

The hope is to provide a mechanism for students and shareholders to influence and effect university investment decisions. SEA is also in the process of reestablishing a committee based on endowment ethics and responsibility through the student union with which the administration has agreed to meet.

So is an A attainable?

“Right now Brandeis’ endowment plans are opaque. I think we can and we should [receive an A]. I don’t see why not. We can definitely do much, much better,” says Grabenya.

Those who are interested in pushing for endowment transparency and ethical endowments should come to SEA meetings, which are Wednesdays at 9 p.m. in the multipurpose room. There will also be an email sent out calling for applicants for a committee to meet with the administration in the near future.