Mac climbs the ranks in new sustainability report card

By Matt Day

Macalester’s very visible campaign for campus sustainability received more recognition Wednesday, when a prominent sustainability review ranked the college among the top tier of schools nationwide.The College Sustainability Report Card gave Macalester an “A-,” its highest grade awarded. Twenty-five other schools in the United States and Canada out of more than 300 surveyed shared the top grade.

“I am very pleased that our hard work on sustainability issues here at Macalester has been recognized by the Sustainable Endowments Institute,” college Sustainability Director Suzanne Savanick Hansen said.

Macalester received a “B+” on the report last year, and has taken large steps since earning a “C” three years ago.

The college received top marks in the “administration,” “climate change & energy,” “food and recycling,” “student involvement” and “investment priorities” categories.

The report compiled its data from surveys completed by college administrators that detailed environmental aspects of investment policy, campus and student life and dining services.

Café Mac’s Farm to Fork program, the EcoHouse, Mac CARES, and the college’s sustainability master plan were cited by the report as highlights of Macalester’s commitment to sustainability.

Macalester was also praised in the report for its recent demolition projects, Winton Health Center and the Field House. In each case, the college recycled more than 90 percent of the materials from demolition of the buildings.

Markim Hall, constructed on Winton’s former site, received LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the most coveted rating for energy efficiency in buildings.

Hansen said she didn’t know the carbon footprint of the school’s other major recent construction project. At 175,000 square feet, the Leonard Center is much larger than its predecessor.

“Hopefully it doesn’t consume more energy [than the Field House],” Hansen said. “But the last one was inefficient, to stay flat is a good goal.”

For the fourth consecutive year, Macalester’s lowest grade in the report came in the “Endowment Transparency” category – a “C” after a “D” last year.

Two provisions of the college sustainability plan which would have addressed transparency were edited out of the plan in August, Hansen said.

Treasurer David Wheaton said the first proposal, which would have called for tracking the college’s savings from energy efficiency, was redundant. “The first [proposal] is what already CERF does,” Wheaton said, referring to the college’s Clean Energy Revolving Fund.

The second would have committed Macalester to “strategically invest and use its endowment to financially benefit the college while remaining true to its core values by investing in companies, initiatives, etc. that have positive environmental and social benefits,” according to a draft version of the plan.

Wheaton said such a bold step would have required the approval of the Board of Trustees Investment Committee.

“We wanted to be careful to publicly commit ourselves to something we can’t do yet,” Wheaton said. According to the Responsible Endowments Coalition, such a commitment to sustainable investing would have been one of the most far-reaching measures in the country.

Some schools have committees charged with making recommendations to investment officials based on environmental considerations, but none have such a strong mandate as the rejected draft at Macalester.

Colleges like Columbia University, Tufts University and the University of Pennsylvania have advisory committees that encourage investment in companies with environmentally friendly business practices. Others, like Carleton College and Swarthmore College, publicize lists of their investment holdings.

Macalester does neither, but is taking steps toward endowment transparency.

Macalester has had a Social Responsibility Committee since the 1980s. Created to help implement the college’s divestment from companies that supported the South African apartheid regime, it also encouraged divestment from companies tied to the Sudanese government during the genocide in Darfur in 2007. The SRC also brought a proposal to the board that would have eliminated the use of Coca Cola products on campus.

Chief Investment Officer Craig Aase ’70 said in an e-mail that the SRC’s mandate “sets investment performance as the endowment’s primary purpose, but reserves the right to consider social issues if the issue under consideration inflicts ‘grave social harm.'”

Wheaton said that though SRC guidelines don’t mention the environment specifically, they leave open the possibility of recommendations to the investment committee based on environmental grounds.

Wheaton said the college’s senior staff has also approved a draft proposal by the SRC that would ask the investment office to make public a list of Macalester’s index holdings. He said the changes should take effect before the end of the calendar year, when the investment office Web site’s redesign is completed.