NWF Report Analyzes Campus Sustainability Trends

The National Wildlife Federation has released its Campus Environment 2008 Report Card, a comprehensive look at nationwide trends in sustainability among America's institutions of higher learning. The report compares findings with the previous study conducted in 2001.

The 2008 Report Card, based on a survey conducted in partnership with Princeton Survey Research Associates International, found that environmentally progressive and sustainable operations are now ranked among the highest priorities on campus. Ironically however, students are less likely to be environmentally literate when they graduate than their predecessors.

The study, which reviews programs at 1,068 institutions, recognizes colleges and universities for exemplary performance and awards academic letter grades (A through D) for collective, national performance on a broad range of conservation issues, including energy, water, transportation, landscaping, waste reduction, and environmental literacy. Campuses in the survey are not graded or ranked on an individual basis; rather, the survey analyzes collective trends in the areas of management, operations, and academics.

With 27 percent of U.S. colleges and universities responding, the 2008 survey (sent to presidents, administrators, and facilities managers) is the nation's largest study to date created to gauge trends and new developments in campus sustainability. It was also the first study of its kind when conducted in 2001.

"The 2008 report finds that campus leaders value sustainability. They speak about it, plan for it, hire staff to support it, and the campuses they lead are steadily becoming greener models for the wider society," said Julian Keniry, NWF's senior director of campus and community leadership. "At the same time, the educational curricula to prepare students for a post-college world influenced by climate change are not keeping pace. On most campuses, the business leaders and facilities managers appear to be making greater strides towards sustainability than their faculty peers."

The study reveals trends including:

• The most prevalent environmental initiative is water conservation, versus recycling in 2001;

• Conserving energy is 2008's most popular performance goal, versus the 2001 goal of upping environmental performance in new buildings;

• The biggest green opportunity colleges are missing is adequate education about sustainability for their students;

• Funding is the biggest obstacle to expanding environmental and sustainability programming, versus the "other priorities" cited in 2001.

Regarding school management, American colleges show greener overall leadership than they did in 2001. The study reveals that management generally values environmental, social, and economic sustainability and is putting systems in place to broaden and sustain engagement campus-wide. Indicators of this commitment include increased goal-setting to improve performance, more staffing for sustainability programs, and a rise in orientation programs on waste reduction and other sustainability efforts on campus.

However, sustainability initiatives still face roadblocks such as inadequate funding and support for faculty development.

"This Report Card tells us there is a widening gap between where higher education actually is on teaching sustainability versus where it should be," said Kevin Coyle, vice president of education for National Wildlife Federation. "Given the environmental challenges and opportunities this generation will face, I find this cause for deep concern and am committed to working with our partners to address this on both state and federal levels."

More than 240 individual schools are recognized and named in the report for having exemplary levels of sustainability activities, as determined by survey responses. The school engaged in the greatest number of such activities is Willamette University in Salem, Ore. Other campuses with high numbers of exemplary marks include the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta; Michigan State University, East Lansing; University of Arizona, Tucson; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Cascadia Community College in Bothell, Wash.

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