Cal Poly’s sustainability grade for the 2009-2010 academic year remained at a B+ this year, according to the 2011 College Sustainability Report Card published on Oct. 27 by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI). This score is a two-letter grade improvement from its 2008 results.
The SEI has published College Sustainability Report Cards to 322 universities in every U.S. state and in Canada since 2005. The Report Cards are published to recognize universities leading the way in sustainability and to give other universities suggestions to improve their own sustainability practices, according to the College Sustainability Report Card website.
“We believe that a university can’t just commit to sustainability goals — it has to use its resources and accomplish those goals,” the SEI senior research fellow Rob Foley said.
This is Cal Poly’s third year participating in the evaluation and, as of June 2010, the university holds $142 million in endowments, according to the College Sustainability Report Card website.
The institute gathers information for the annual Report Card by sending four types of surveys to each school with questions about the university’s campus operations, dining facilities and endowment investment practices over the past academic year, Foley said. The institute also sends out student surveys, although it did not get any student surveys back from Cal Poly this year.
Cal Poly was judged on eight main categories.
According to its Sustainability Report Card, Cal Poly earned an A in the Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Green Building, Student Involvement, Transportation and Endowment Transparency categories, and a B in the Food & Recycling category.
Cal Poly’s performance also earned a Campus Sustainability Leader award.
Cal Poly received a C in Investment Priorities, but Foley said a standard grade of C is given to any school which has established endowments. According to the College Sustainability Report Card website, extra points are awarded by SEI if the university invests in specific sustainable programs like renewable energy funds. No university graded by the institute received less than a C in this category.
The Cal Poly Facilities office is directly involved in campus operations and projects reviewed in the College Sustainability Report Card. Assistant director of energy, utilities and sustainability Dennis Elliot was the primary person to fill out the SEI surveys this year and is a key player in the sustainable programs and projects on campus.
Elliot said he believes student and faculty group efforts and the completion of construction projects like Poly Canyon Village are among the reasons why Cal Poly received a high grade this year.
“There are so many projects going on on campus, and it’s really an honor for me to be able to work with people leading these initiatives,” Elliot said. “We’re always trying to refine our policies to make them better — it’s all about baby steps.”
The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) Center for Sustainability was approved in February 2010. According to Elliot, it was a major accomplishment for the university. The mission of the Center for Sustainability is to help the CAFES reach its sustainability goals through new and existing programs and research. The Cal Poly Organic Farm is one such sustainable project, director Hunter Francis said.
The Center for Sustainability is also planning several new programs like sustainability assessments of CAFES curriculum and operations as well as new recycling and composting projects, according to its website.
Francis said the center informs Cal Poly about sustainable innovations made by CAFES — which he feels helped earn this years’ grades.
“The fact that Cal Poly’s grade improved doesn’t surprise me” Francis said. “I think the center could have been a contributing factor.”
Cal Poly has many faculty and student groups on campus that also focus on promoting sustainability.
The Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute (UFEI) is a faculty group that promotes sustainability. It was organized by the natural resources management (NRM) department to advocate improving the management of California’s urban forests. Dr. Richard Thompson, professor in the NRM department and the director of UFEI, said he believes everyone on campus does their part to encourage sustainability.
“Big change doesn’t happen overnight at a large institution like Cal Poly, but I think we’re making great strides,” Thompson said. “The NRM department’s Swanton Pacific Ranch in particular has been recognized for its efficient agricultural use.”
Student groups also emphasize the importance of sustainable practices on campus.
The Green Campus Program is a student intern-run program that works alongside Facilities Services on resource conservation projects and educates the university community about improving sustainability. Project coordinator and electrical engineering graduate student Nick Lovgren said he agrees with Cal Poly’s grades in the Climate Change and Energy and the Administration categories.
“The Green Campus Program is working on a project right now to save energy and lower costs by changing out the street lights on campus for more efficient ones,” Lovgren said. “Little changes like this made on campus really add up. I’m very proud of the school, but I also think that further improvements could be made in areas like campus composting and dealing with trash.”
University policy is also taken into account when schools are graded by the SEI.
According to the Cal Poly Facilities website, a master plan was approved in 2001 by President Baker to guide campus development and resource allocation in a way that reduces environmental impact.
Cal Poly uses the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system to make sure all campus construction and renovation is conducted in a sustainable manner. Facilities Services also uses conservation programs and techniques to save on energy, water and utility costs across campus.
Elliot said there are several campus projects being planned which he hopes to submit to the SEI for next year’s Sustainability Report Card, including a feasibility study for a wind farm at the top of Poly Canyon and the LEED certification of the Cotchett Education building.
Cal Poly’s complete Sustainability Report Card is available on the College Sustainability Report Card website.