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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Green grade stagnant, alternate sustainability evaluations sought

Published: October 29, 2010
Section: News

Brandeis received a B this year on its annual sustainability report card from the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) as university Sustainability Coordinator Janna Cohen-Rosenthal ’03 works to create a more effective way to evaluate the university’s sustainability.

The university also received a B on last year’s Green Report Card, but for different reasons. This year, the university’s grade for endowment transparency rose from an F to a C. However, the university’s overall grade did not change because the university received a C in shareholder engagement this year but was not graded in that category the previous year.

“It’s irritating,” Cohen-Rosenthal said. “The Green Report Card is confusing to me. It doesn’t seem quite fair all the time.”

Of the nine catagories considered on the Green Report Card, three are related to the endowment, SEI’s specialty.

Spokeswoman for SEI Emily Flynn said that while there is “no most important catagory,” the report card “focuses on the endowment because investment decisions are expressions of a university’s financial priorities.

“It says a lot about the campus and can open up a greater dialogue about sustainability,” Flynn said.

While the Green Report Card’s focus is on the endowment, Cohen-Rosenthal said it does not help the university when it looks to improve in other catagories.

“The Report Card is a wonderful tool, but it is really focused on investment,” she said. “But something like energy use is really complex, and the Report Card doesn’t take that into account, nor does it give you a sort of path for how to improve.”

In part because of the Report Card’s inadequacies, Cohen-Rosenthal is working with an experiential learning class this semester to create a Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) that would cover every sector of campus from planning and administration to operations to education to research.

STARS is the brainchild of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an organization which enables colleges and university to meet their goals by providing various forms of support. STARS acts as a comprehensive assessment that can show universities like Brandeis the ways in which it could best reach sustainability goals.

“STARS is very broad,” Cohen-Rosenthal said. “I like to think we can use it to look at the triple bottom line: the university’s economic, social and environmental impact.”

Cohen-Rosenthal and her class are working toward compiling data this semester and hope to have the system up and accessible by January.