New School Green Rating Leaves Room for Improvement
The report is designed for rural campuses and doesn’t consider the urban setting of The New School.
According to the College Sustainability Report Card, The New School has become more environmentally sustainable, but its urban campus and poor financial policies prevented a stellar grade.
On October 27, the College Sustainability Report Card gave The New School a “B” for its efforts toward sustainability. Although the grade is an improvement from its first grade in 2008 of a “D-,” the financial policy grades are still detrimentally low.
Other local universities like New York University and Columbia received a “B” as well, whereas schools in less urban areas, like Oberlin and Pomona, ranked highest
Philip Silva, former assistant director of operations and sustainability at The New School, said the report is designed for rural campuses and doesn’t consider the urban setting of The New School. “It’s trying to fit a square peg in a round hole to have us graded by these metrics,” Silva said.
The report card is published by the Sustainable Endowment Institute. Founded in 2005, the institute is a non-profit organization that researches universities and seeks to educate them about sustainability. Along with investigating a university’s infrastructure, they also evaluate its investment policies, as their name would indicate.
The report is based on a set of questionnaires that are filled out by different offices and groups on campus. It’s made up of nine categories, ranging from student involvement to endowment transparency. It covers over 300 universities across the nation and does not adjust the criteria based on location.
ReNew School, The New School’s environmental student group, has worked extensively to better the university’s sustainability, but their efforts were overshadowed by other categories in the report. “We wanted to know why we got a bad grade, and we took into account what we could personally do about it,” said Erica Schapiro-Sakashita, a co-chair of ReNew School. “But a lot of it was out of our hands.”
In fact, The New School got its lowest grade, a “D,” in the “Endowment Transparency” category. Silva explained that this category is based on how available a school’s investments are. Universities often have endowments that they use to invest in companies so that they get a return on their endowment. If the public can see what companies the university invests in, then it is considered to have a transparent endowment policy. After demands by students in the 2008 protests, the university created the advisory committee on investor responsibility.
Lou Wright, another co-chair of ReNew School, said certain aspects of the report didn’t consider The New School’s urban setting enough to give a fair grade. However, he said the “D” in “Endowment Transparency” and the “C’”s in “Investment Priorities” and “Shareholder Engagement” really brought the grade average down. “We still have an investment policy that doesn’t really jive with our politics,” he said.
Silva, however, said this category is hard to grade and far removed from other significant efforts. “I think the important thing to keep in mind is that transparency doesn’t necessarily result in sustainable investment policies,” he said.
Gwen Kilvert is the assistant director of sustainability and energy management at The New School. The sustainability office was created last year as part of the facilities department. She said that while the College Sustainability Report Card is a great resource for current and future students and staff, it covers such varied aspects of sustainability that it’s unable to properly evaluate the important work that groups in the university are doing.
“It’s very hard to measure some of these things,” Kilvert said. “It’s so broad that it’s really hard to find one tool that could very accurately assess all of those various areas. I would hope they’re looking at ways to improve the lens that they’re looking at all of our sustainability initiatives through.”
Schapiro-Sakashita said the school is also using another grading system called STARS to measure their sustainability efforts. She and Kilvert explained that STARS has a more thorough grading system that looks at each university and its contexts, and doesn’t compare them to each other.
As sustainability continues to be a serious issue for universities, ratings systems will also continue to grade universities. Critics of the College Sustainability Report hope for the report and others grading systems to practice a more thorough evaluation of each university.
Silva said grading systems are good for bringing attention to how a university stands in the world of institutional sustainability, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter. “If you really wanna know what’s going on, you’ve gotta pop the hood,” he said. “You’ve gotta ask questions, and you really gotta see the nitty gritty of what’s being done and when it’s being done.”