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The Carletonian

Carleton awarded ‘A-’, named one of 15 greenest schools

<st week, for the second year in a row, Carleton was awarded an “A-” by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) for the college’s role as a leader in sustainability and environmental issues. This ranked Carleton amongst the 15 greenest colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, according to the SEI. Carleton received five “A’s” and four “B’s” in the SEI’s “Sustainability Report Card”—A’s in the categories of Administration, Food and Recycling, Student Involvement, Investment Priorities and Shareholder Engagement, and B’s in the categories of Climate Change and Energy, Green Buildings, Endowment Transparency and Transportation. In comparison to other MIAC schools, SEI awarded St. Olaf an overall “B” and Macalester an overall “B+.”

Carleton also received an honorable mention this month for its environmental strides in the September/October edition of Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club. Ten schools were recognized as the “nation’s environmental leaders,” and four more received honorable mentions.

But how exactly do organizations like SEI or the Sierra Club rate the “greenness” of schools? And how extensive is the research that provides the basis for these ratings? As it turns out, the process is more subjective than one might expect. Both the Sustainable Endowments Institute and Sierra magazine depend on information submitted voluntarily by individual schools in the form of surveys, and while SEI claims to back up the surveys through independent research, Sierra does not. “We don’t have the resources to go out to every school and actually see if they are doing what they say they are doing” says Sierra’s Michael Fox in an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. “It’s just me and one other person.”

SEI too, despite often being hailed as providing the most in-depth environmental ratings, has its flaws. Many of its criteria (such as student involvement) are hard to quantify with a letter grade, and inconsistencies among grading raise questions as to the methodology. St. Olaf, for example, received a “C” in the Green Building category, despite the recent construction of a new science center that is expected to receive a LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Counsel. Carleton, which received a “B” in the category, has an official policy mandating all new buildings to be LEED Silver or higher but is hoping to achieve only a LEED Gold certification for its new dorm complex (a step below Platinum).

The concept of green rankings in the first place is something that should be taken with a grain of salt. As with all ranking systems, many worry the greater purpose of increased attention on environmental issues will be lost. “Rankings are inherently zero sum — there can be only one No. 1,” said Julian Dautremont-Smith, Associate Director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. “Campus sustainability includes a really collaborative group of people, and with some of these rankings, there is a concern that could undermine that.” In these times when rankings seem to define the college search process, the “green” reputation of a school can be a serious admissions factor that many groups are latching on to. In addition to SEI and Sierra, the Princeton Review, Kaplan, the National Wildlife Foundation and Forbes have all issued some sort of green college list or rating system.

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