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National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education

August 21, 2008

On August 21 the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) released its national report card on sustainability in higher education, Campus Environment 2008. The 2008 Report Card is based on a survey conducted in partnership with Princeton Survey Research Associates International and is the nation's largest study to date. Previously conducted in 2001, the 2008 study included 1,068 campuses (176 more than in 2001), in 50 states, which is approximately 27% of all U.S. colleges & universities.

The study did not attempt to grade or rank individual campuses. Instead the data analyzes trends in terms of collective percentages of schools engaged in the areas of leadership management, academics, and operations. For all survey questions, a comprehensive "report card" was prepared to show the relative strengths of particular campus practices. The survey revealed the following trends including:

  • Most promising new development is the rising number of campuses setting goals for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other green house gases. 
  • Funding is the biggest obstacle to expanding environmental and sustainability programming. 
  • The most prevalent environmental initiative is water conservation vs. recycling in 2001. 
  • Conserving energy is 2008's most popular performance goal, vs. the 2001 goal of increasing environmental performance in new buildings. 
  • The biggest green opportunity colleges are missing is adequate education about sustainability for their students.

The 2008 study was sent to all 2- and 4-year institution presidents, administrators and facilities managers in the U.S. Co-sponsors of the study include the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Association of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), APPA-Leadership in Educational Facilities, American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Clean Air-Cool Planet (CA-CP), Energy Action Coalition, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), National Association of Campus Activities (NACA), the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW-Madison, Society for College and University Planning (SCUP).

New Resource

NWF also published a review of the strategies and steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campuses in Guide to Climate Action Planning, Pathways to a Low-Carbon Campus.. The guide offers suggestions to campuses on how to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions quickly and cost effectively by examining best practices from colleges across the nation.