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FEATURE ARTICLE - NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007
Six Ways to Green Your Alma Mater
Use our list to help your university go green, from socially responsible investments to recycled paper, sweatshop-free purchasing, and more.
The sustainability-minded students in the Campus Climate Challenge group at Whitman College in Washington State won a modest victory last year—the administration agreed to purchase renewable energy credits, or “green tags,” equivalent to one percent of the campus’ energy use. That seemed as much of a commitment as the students could win from the administration that year—there just wasn’t money in the college budget to buy more clean energy.
That was when junior Brittany Smith went to the development office with an idea: to create an Alternative Electricity Donation Fund through which alumni, parents, students, and faculty could all contribute directly towards the purchase of green tags for the school. The development office loved the idea, and they included information about the fund in a fall mailing to alumni. The fund proceeded to bring in more than $13,000, enough to purchase green tags equivalent to a full quarter of the school’s annual energy use. Gifts to the fund came in from parents and from more than 30 alumni, some of whom had not given consistently to the school in the past, says Barbara Stubblefield, the director of Whitman’s annual fund.
Whitman is only one of many campuses where green changes are afoot. Do you customarily give a year-end donation to a school you’re connected to—whether as an alum or a parent or grandparent of a student? Consider taking a moment this winter to make that donation a vote for progress on campus on behalf of people and the planet. We’ve compiled six ways to make your connection to your alma mater a green one.
1. Read Your School's Report Card
The schools you attended gave report cards about your progress—now you have an opportunity to return the favor. The Sustainable Endowments Institute has issued the 2008 “College Sustainability Report Card” for 200 colleges and universities, assessing their progress on a long list of environmental benchmarks. Before sending a donation to the school you attended, take a look at how your school measures up here. Then, enclose a note with your gift either praising a high grade or urging action on a low one to let the school know that sustainability is important to you.
Alumni can play an important role in encouraging schools to make environmentally responsible choices, says Mark Orlowski, the founder and director of the Institute.
Resources for step one »
2. Give a Gift to Green Your School
Many campuses across the country have established “green campus” initiatives or created “chief sustainability officer” positions over the past few years. Just as Whitman alumni can donate directly to the Alternative Electricity Donation Fund, you may also be able to direct your gift specifically to your school’s greening efforts.
First, do a little homework. Rather than simply mailing back an unrestricted donation, call the school’s development office and ask if the school has any ongoing greening initiatives. If it does, ask how you might make a restricted gift to specifically support sustainability improvements. Then, be sure to note “restricted gift for” the specific program in the subject line of your check.
Students at Macalester College in Minnesota developed a particularly promising model for funding sustainability improvements on campus. Frequently, retrofitting a building to save energy, or to generate renewable energy requires up-front costs but then saves money on energy bills over time. So a group of Macalester students thought that the model of a revolving loan fund—wherein a fund makes loans, and the repayment of those loans provides the capital for new loans—could be an ideal tool for greening campus energy use.
For example, such a fund might give a grant to a particular dorm or department to install energy-saving lighting. Then, as the lights save that dorm or department money on their energy bills in subsequent years, the dorm would pay the loan back from their energy savings. These funds now exist on six college campuses, including Macalester’s Clean Energy Revolving Fund, though the model varies slightly from school to school.
Alumni may be able to donate directly to these revolving funds, or help create them. (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has published a guide [PDF] by Macalester students for creating such a fund at other schools.)
Resources for step two »
3. Support Student Activism
On just about every college campus, groups of students are working hard to improve the school’s impact on people and the planet. They may be requesting that the dining hall serve more Fair Trade Certified™ products, meeting with administrators to ensure that university apparel isn’t made in sweatshops, standing in solidarity with campus workers who are organizing for a living wage, or promoting awareness and action on climate change. One way to support your alma mater in a green way would be to donate directly to a student group. Groups such as United Students for Fair Trade, the Sierra Student Coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops, or the Campus Climate Challenge have chapters at hundreds of colleges, universities, and high schools, and they generally accept donations through the 501(c)3 status of the school itself.
Resources for step three »
4. Give a Gift for a Better World
You may invest your own savings in socially responsible funds, but chances are the schools to which you donate don’t do the same with your monetary gifts. Most colleges invest the donations they receive in conventional funds, and do not disclose what kinds of companies those investments support.
The Sustainable Endowments Institute’s aforementioned “College Sustainability Report Card” also rates each of 200 colleges and universities on their “transparency”—or how open the school is about where its endowment is invested. If your own school doesn’t disclose where its investments go, or if it does but you’re not pleased with where it’s putting its money, include a note with your gift urging greater transparency or socially responsible investing. Or, consider splitting your gift between the school and an organization, like the Sustainable Endowments Institute, that is promoting greater transparency in college endowments. Then be sure to tell your school why you reduced your annual gift.
Some schools are taking steps to become more socially responsible investors by publicizing where their investments are held, and three schools—Williams College, Brown University, and the University of Utah—have created special funds to which donors can give that are guaranteed to be invested in socially responsible investments. If you attended one of these three schools, donate through these funds.
Other schools have divested holdings in companies doing business with Sudan, where a government-backed militia has been accused of genocide. Visit the Sudan Divestment Task Force for resources.
Resources for step four »
5. Green Your Alumni Magazine
Does your alma mater, or your child or grandchild’s school, send you a glossy, full-color alumni magazine several times a year? Like the great majority of magazines generally, these magazines are likely printed on virgin paper containing no recycled content, putting an unnecessary burden on the world’s forests. Invite the publishers to consider printing the alumni magazine on greener papers. Green America’s Magazine PAPER Project. has helped dozens of magazines switch to more environmentally responsible papers, and would be happy to assist any alumni magazine in making the switch.
“Alumni magazine publishers need to hear from readers that they would feel even greater school pride if they could read alumni updates printed on environmentally responsible papers,” says Frank Locantore, director of our Magazine PAPER Project.
Resources for step five »
6. Fight Sweatshops
Show school pride with apparel and objects that you can be confident were made under decent labor conditions, not in sweatshops. More than 174 colleges and five high schools have affiliated with the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC). The WRC assists in the enforcement of school Codes of Conduct designed to ensure that factories producing clothing and other goods bearing college and university names respect the basic rights of workers. (Another monitor, the Fair Labor Association, has fallen out of favor with many campus activists over concerns about poor enforcement and corporate influence.)
Find out if your own alma mater is a WRC affiliate here. If it isn’t, you may want to avoid purchasing products with the school’s name and logo, and to tell the development office why when you send in your gift. You might even consider splitting your regular gift between the school’s annual fund and a student group that is working for fair labor practices, such as United Students Against Sweatshops, and then tell the development office why.
Resources for step six »
When you receive a year-end appeal from a school, let it know your gifts are tied to your dream for a greener campus.
“We try to embrace opportunities to engage alumni in ways that are meaningful to them, and a lot of alumni care about the quality of our environment,” says John Bogley, the vice president for development at Whitman.
• The Sustainable Endowments Institute's 2008 College Sustainability Report Card
• Carleton College's Sustainability Revolving Fund
• Connecticut College's Energy Conservation and Efficiency Fund, 860/439-5218, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Harvard University's Green Campus Loan Fund, 617/496-1278
• Macalester College's Clean Energy Revolving Fund, 651/696-6274, email@example.com
• University of Maine's Green Loan Fund, 207/581-3322 firstname.lastname@example.org
• University of Michigan's Energy Conservation Measures Fund, 734/647-1143
• Whitman College's Alternative Electricity Donation Fund, 509/524-2000
• Download the Guide to Creating a Campus Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund [PDF]
Locate student chapters of:
• Campus Climate Challenge, 202/536-2845
• Sierra Student Coalition, 202/548-4593
• United Students Against Sweatshops, 202/NO-SWEAT
• United Students for Fair Trade, 202/296-6727
• The Student Labor Action Project reports that currently, there are active living-wage campaigns at Vanderbilt University, Pomona College, University of Vermont, and Miami University in Ohio.
Schools with socially responsible endowment funds:
• Brown University Social Choice Fund.
• University of Utah Social Choice Fund (90% Calvert Group's Social Investment Balanced Fund [CSIFX], 10% community investing).
• Williams College SRI Endowment Fund (60% TIAA-CREF Social Choice Equity Fund, 40% TIAA-CREF Bond Plus II Fund).
• Sudan Divestment Task Force, 202/481-8220.
• Green America's Magazine PAPER Project, 800/58-GREEN.
• Green America's resources for ending sweatshops.
• Workers Rights Consortium, 202/387-4884, email@example.com