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October 15, 2011

Billion Dollar Green Challenge to Universities: $1 Billion in Green Energy Investments
    by Robert Kropp

32 universities already commit $65 million to self-managed green revolving funds.

SocialFunds.com -- The Billion Dollar Green Challenge may have been launched just this week, but already 32 universities, Harvard and Stanford among them, have committed $65 million to investments that finance energy efficiency upgrades.

Launched by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and 15 partner organizations, the Green Challenge encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions to invest a total of $1 billion in revolving funds to reduce energy consumption and lower operating costs on campuses. Savings achieved in utilities budgets by the revolving fund will be reinvested to support future green projects.

Existing green revolving funds have been a bright spot in a mostly dismal economy, enjoying returns on investment of 32%, according to an SEI study published last year. "We're transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities," says Mark Orlowski, executive director of SEI.

The 32 universities already committing funds to the Green Challenge have been designated as its Founding Circle. In addition to Harvard and Stanford, Founding Circle members include Arizona State University, Caltech, Dartmouth, George Washington, Middlebury, the University of British Columbia, and Weber State University. A full list of participants can be found on the Billion Dollar Green Challenge website.

For five years, SEI has published the College Sustainability Report Card, which ranks North American colleges and universities according to their sustainability practices, including the investment activities of their endowments.

The 57% of endowments that received a grade of A for investment priorities from the Report Card in 2011 were cited for their investments in renewable energy funds, as well as community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and on-campus water and energy-efficiency projects. Nearly half of the colleges and universities with the 300 largest endowments in the United States and Canada were found to invest part of their endowment in renewable energy funds.

While Harvard and Stanford were both among the Sustainability Leaders on the 2011 Score Card, neither was designated an Endowment Sustainability Leader. Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota are members of the Founding Circle that also appeared on the Report Card's list of Endowment Sustainability Leaders in 2011.

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