U of M scores low on ‘green’ report card, accuracy of score debated

The University of Saskatchewan and the University of Manitoba have scored a C- and C+ respectively on the College Sustainability Report Card. Out of all Canadian universities scored, the U of M received the second lowest score, only scoring higher than the University of Waterloo, while the U of S received the sixth lowest score alongside McMaster University.

The College Sustainability Report Card evaluates universities and colleges in both Canada and the U.S. on their sustainability initiatives. This year, 332 schools were evaluated, including 17 Canadian institutions.

These institutions were graded on nine separate categories including administration, climate change and energy initiatives, food and recycling programs, “green” buildings on campus, student involvement, transportation options, endowment transparency, investment priorities and shareholder engagement.

While no Canadian institutions scored an overall grade of A-, the highest score obtained this year, 10 were awarded a B- or better.

Maire McDermott, U of M sustainability coordinator, said that the report card allows universities to pinpoint areas where they are not excelling to become motivated to improve.

“I don’t think it’s entirely accurate but whenever it comes up with something like a D in student involvement, you have to question what aren’t we doing that others are doing,” McDermott said.
One area McDermott does not believe was accurately reflected was in energy conservation where the university scored a C.

“I think what’s reflected in the energy conservation area in the report card doesn’t really reflect our efforts. I think we do well in that category.”

She said another issue with the report card is that it is a U.S.-based survey and a number of the questions are specific to U.S. initiatives and do not take into consideration Canadian initiatives.

Margret Asmuss, U of S sustainability coordinator said that the C+ given to the U of S places them in the middle of the pack and gives the university an idea where it ranks in terms of sustainability.

“So far, we are not among the leaders in campus sustainability, but neither are among the lower achievers,” said Asmuss. “However, on the other hand, this is the same mark that we received last year, despite the fact that we feel we have made considerable progress in the last year.”

Asmuss said surveys like the Green Report Card provide a valuable opportunity to learn from other campuses and is more important than the actual score.

“It is very difficult to objectively compare campuses, especially given their diversity,” said Asmuss.

“For instance, the complexity, scope and depth of sustainability initiatives would be very different at a large university, with a broad diversity of science-based disciplines, than it would be at a smaller liberal arts college. Certainly there are commonalities, but there are also significant differences,” she said.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability on Higher Education (AASHE), both the U of M and U of S being members, provides institutions with resources to move forward with sustainability.

“Anything that helps get the conversation going in sustainability is a good thing,” said Paul Rowland, executive director of AASHE.

He said the issue is the number of surveys like the Green Report Card that universities are asked to fill out.

“[Universities] feel that they have to fill out a survey because they’d feel badly about not participating. [ . . . ] I think that as valuable as these can be, they’re most valuable if they help an institution move forward,” said Rowland.

“I’ve heard that some institutions are not happy with the way the survey was done. They’re not happy with the information and they’re not sure what to do about it because there hasn’t been complete transparency on how they got their score or their ranking,” he said.

“Because of the lack of transparency [ . . . ] the institutions who don’t score well [have] a lot of concern about the fairness and the process of putting the scores together.”