U of M gets a C on sustainability report card

The University of Manitoba received an overall grade of C on the 2011 College Sustainability Report Card, which is published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

The grade has increased from last year’s evaluation, which gave the U of M a C-.

“No one wants a C,” said Maire McDermott, sustainability coordinator for the U of M Physical Plant, who also pointed out that the grade was a good way to continue to motivate the university’s current initiatives.

University of Manitoba Students’ Union vice-president (external) Sheldon Gardiner commented that there were plenty of areas that the university could improve in.

He explained that having no on-campus composting program or bottled water ban, little encouragement for alternative transportation and “very few staff dedicated to sustainability projects” put the university behind in becoming more eco-friendly.

Despite the low grade, McDermott said that the university has still made important strides since last year

She said that the University of Manitoba became a signatory to the University and College Presidents’ Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada and that the University’s Sustainability Committee is developing a sustainability action plan.

The report card ranks sustainability efforts in nine areas, including climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement and transportation.

Christina Billingsley, a senior research fellow for the Sustainability Endowment Institute, explained that one of the reasons more campuses are becoming “greener” was due to universities realizing the economic benefits associated with sustainable practices. It was also due to greater public awareness about sustainability issues.

Gardiner noted that the progress made at the University of Manitoba has been in areas that benefit the university financially.

“Initiatives that are a good idea but don’t save the university money seem to be under prioritized.”

Billingsley claimed that it was important to evaluate colleges and universities on green efforts because they are “leaders of innovation” and can demonstrate practices that lessen their environmental impact to communities.

“It helps hold institutions accountable,” Gardiner said.

McDermott indicated that there were some efforts not reflected in the survey and that she didn’t think the survey wholly represents the University of Manitoba’s sustainability performance.

The university received F’s for Endowment Transparency and Shareholder Engagement..

McDermott said the university did not complete those portions of the survey.

“The F’s, therefore, are not indicative of our actual performance in that category.”

Billingsley explained that the report card cannot credit information that is not made public.

She also stated that 80 per cent of other schools responded to the endowment survey.

In the area of student involvement, the university received a C.

Gardiner stated that the grade shouldn’t be interpreted as a judgement on the student body, explaining that “student involvement” refers to administrative support for students working towards sustainability.

Gardiner told the Manitoban that the university did not provide information on UMSU’s sustainability efforts or their environmental sustainability efforts.

“What students do, we do well,” he said.

McDermott agreed that the University of Manitoba could realistically aim to receive an A/A- grade in the future.

Out of 322 colleges and universities graded, 52 institutions received A grades.

The top Canadian universities were the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto, who all received A minuses.