Tech is among the highest-rated universities in the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s latest annual College Sustainability Report Card, one of the most-participated-in sustainability rankings in the U.S.
Each year, the report card grades participating universities on sustainability-related features of administration, energy use, food, recycling, buildings, student involvement, transportation and finances.
This year’s report card grades Tech at an A-, its highest grade since it joined five years ago. Tech’s results are attributed to a combination of ongoing sustainability projects and a change in the report card’s data collection and reporting.
“The benefit of these grades is that we go back each year and check on how we’re doing. This year we spent more time doing that and digging deeper into those answers than we have in the past,” said Marcia Kinstler, sustainability director of environmental stewardship at Tech.
The cascade of sustainability initiatives and projects stem from both Institute-wide and GT Dining updates. Recently, buses and trolleys’ engines have been upgraded to greener models, printing services now use 100 percent recycled products and massive lighting and automation projects on campus will save thousands of MW-hours of energy per year.
GT Dining’s two 98 percent waste neutral dining halls have replaced a significant number of machinery and appliances with more energy-efficient ones. They are also increasing local food sources, and the dining halls have signed on to the Atlanta Local Food Initiative.
Two categories of major improvement from last year were endowment transparency and shareholder engagement. The endowment transparency category relied heavily on how universities reported their proxy voting on investments. Tech, however, avoids that by investing in mutual funds.
Another reporting issue that Kinstler found inaccuracies with is how buildings are rated in the scorecard. Whereas criteria like the popular Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) measures how the building itself is constructed, it does not measure how the building is used. Kinstler pointed out that many buildings on campus, LEED-certified or not, incorporate sustainable practices and design.
Though the most sweeping changes to sustainability measures on campus are the product of administrative and construction decisions, student organizations like SGA’s Sustainability Committee and Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS) incorporate student-led and operated initiatives into campus sustainability.
“We are starting work on a Green Fee campaign that would create a fund for instituting more sustainability initiatives on campus,” said Molly McLaughlin, president of SOS and a fifth-year CHBE major. “Last year we held a sustainable concert series that was zero-waste and solar-powered and raised over $1000.”
SOS also provides an on-campus community garden and StarterBikes, which teach students how to fix their bikes and offers inexpensive bikes for students.