When the Princeton Review recently published its annual ranking of colleges and universities, it for the first time included a “Green Rating.” Earlier this spring the UT Arlington President’s Sustainability Committee had submitted detailed info on our sustainability initiatives as part of the university’s response to the Review’s broad annual survey. The results, announced in late July, were disappointing: UT Arlington’s score was 60 on a scale of 60-99.
UT Austin, Rice, and UNT also scored 60, while SMU scored 69, UT Dallas scored 70, and both TCU and Baylor scored 78.
It’s frustrating that our score was the same as it would have been if the campus had not put substantial effort into, and not made substantial investment in, environmental curricula, energy efficiency, recycling, composting, and the launch of the PSC. And it’s irksome that the university got the same score it would have gotten if we had not even responded to the survey items on sustainability. The reasons for this result are somewhat mysterious, since the Review does not disclose details of its methodology for the green rating. But I see several factors.
First, the 60-99 scale of the Review’s green rating system is methodologically ridiculous. Campuses that are doing little or nothing receive a 60. But since the scale is so compressed, apparently so do some campuses that are doing quite a bit.
Second, the survey arrived only a couple of months after the PSC was formed. Some of the most significant sustainability developments at UT Arlington occurred after the survey data were submitted in March: release of the Sustainability Agenda; completion of the carbon footprint project; launch of our participation in a ride-sharing program; launch of our participation in Air North Texas; recognition that the campus consumes some electricity generated with renewable energy; first calculation of the university’s solid waste diversion rate; new purchasing guidelines for paper and equipment; and announcement that the OneBook program will focus on environment in 2009-10. We can reasonably hope that these developments, combined with others we expect this fall – hiring a sustainability coordinator, breaking ground on the campus’ first LEED building, release of a white paper on sustainability curriculum and research, and other results of the committee’s ongoing efforts to implement the Sustainability Agenda – will put us in a better position when we respond to next year’s survey.
Third, and most important, however, our sustainability program still has a long way to go. It is clear we do not meet most of the benchmarks on which the Review’s rating appears to hinge (see methodology):
- • Have not yet hired a sustainability coordinator. This is expected to happen this fall.
- • No environmental studies undergrad degree.
- • No “environmental literacy” requirement.
- • No aggressive CO2 emissions reduction commitment (80 percent reduction by 2050). Hundreds of institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment; but because the UT System prohibits us from doing so, we will have to explore other means of signaling that the university is serious about climate protection.
- • Little use of locally or organically grown food.
- • No program to encourage students to use mass transit. Because Arlington has no mass transit system, our options here are pretty thin. We should explore ways to tap into the park-and-ride system now available on I-30 and I-20 on the city’s north and south sides. [See Letter to editor, 8/26/08]
- • Our new program to encourage students, staff, and faculty to engage in ride sharing is fairly soft. It offers no specific financial incentives.
- • Waste-diversion rate is not high. According to calculations by graduate students during the carbon footprint analysis, about 14 percent of our solid waste stream is recycled or composted. [edit: See correction in Comments below]
- • No specific commitment to buying or making renewable energy. We purchase whatever the regional electricity grid provides, which at this point includes a small (but growing) percentage of renewable energy, principally from Texas’ increasingly prominent wind industry. We should explore the possibility of purchasing more.
We perhaps can get some fuzzy clues about how the Review weighs these factors by comparing our programs with TCU’s. One of the leaders of TCU’s sustainability initiative, Sociology Professor Keith Whitworth, told me he suspects his institution’s surprisingly high score of 78 can be attributed to five considerations. For two of these, there is no difference between TCU and UT Arlington:
- • recent formation of Environmental Council (equivalent to our PSC); and
- • all new buildings are up for LEED certification, and TCU plans to build only LEED structures in the future (same at UT Arlington).
In three others areas we clearly lag behind TCU:
- • free bus passes; universal access transit passes; bike sharing program;
- • waste diversion rate reported to be 70%; and
- • signing of a formal commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
Shorthorn story, 8/28/08