A Few Shades Short of Green

UNLV receives mediocre marks for sustainable practices

Is UNLV really a C student when it comes to environmental studies?

Yes, according to the College Sustainability Report Card, a study conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

The SEI rated the 300 schools with the largest endowments in Canada and the United States, including 32 that applied to be included. Each university was graded in nine categories: Administration, Climate Change and Energy, Food and Recycling, Green Building, Student Involvement, Transportation, Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities and Shareholder Engagement. Breaking it down, UNLV received four B’s, four C’s and one F.

“I think we certainly have a lot we can continue to do,” UNLV Sustainability Director Thomas Piechota said. “There’s certainly more we can do in terms of recycling.”

The SEI agrees, as one of the C’s UNLV received was in food and recycling. This is an area in which most schools scored well, with 78 percent receiving higher marks than UNLV.

The “weakest category” for the participating schools was Shareholder Engagement, according to Lea Lupkin, SEI senior research associate. UNLV joins 41 percent of the schools receiving the lowest mark possible, which means that an institute’s foundation failed when it came to voting procedures on environmental resolutions. The UNLV Foundation failed partly because it has investment managers handle voting details. Schools fare better when they have shareholder responsibility committees that include students, faculty and alumni.

The Endowment Transparency scores were not too good overall, either. The SEI looked at how free the flow of information was from the foundation to the public regarding investment holdings. For this, UNLV got a C. The UNLV Foundation does make a list of its holdings available, but the grade suffered due to the foundation not making its shareholder voting record public.

The foundation cost the university a high grade for Investment Priorities because it does not invest in renewable energy funds. UNLV Foundation Investment committee member and NV Energy president and CEO Michael Yackira said the foundation is considering hiring a consultant to look at the portfolio and opportunities for green-energy investment.

“Certainly part of our allocation should be considering sustainability,” Yackira said. “I think you’re going to see more of those kinds of discussions around.” He added that the foundation’s responsibility is also to consider the investment criteria necessary for the endowment to prosper.

Only 8 percent of participating schools received an overall A in the study, including Harvard, the University of Colorado and Arizona State. Forty-five percent of schools received a B, while UNLV was in the 34 percent of schools to receive a C. Thirteen percent earned a D.

UNLV has implemented green policy in the form of the Urban Sustainability Initiative. It outlines comprehensive sustainable standards and practices, including five-, 10- and 20-year goals for campus sustainability. This policy is why UNLV earned a B in the Administration category, which rates schools on green policies and commitments by those at the administrator and trustee level.

Greenspun Hall is one example that attests to the school’s B grade in the Green Building category. The building, completed in 2008, may earn a LEED-Gold rating. UNLV recently mandated a Silver rating minimum for future construction.