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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

IC scores B+ on sustainability report

Ithaca College has received a B+ grade on the College Sustainability Report Card, an annual rating released by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

Last year, the college received the same overall grade but scored lower in the “Food and Recycling” category this year. The college scored the same in all other categories.

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Mark Darling, sustainability programs coordinator for the college, stands Friday outside the Park Center for Business and Sustainable Enterprise. JUAN TAMAYO/THE ITHACAN

Though the college scored high in most subjects like last year, C grades in “Endowment Transparency” and “Investment Priorities” brought this year’s overall grade down.

The report ranked the college for its sustainability performance during the last academic year in categories like “Food and Recycling” and “Student Involvement.”

Emily Flynn, a communications and research fellow of the institute, said the SEI is a non-profit organization engaged in research and education through the advancement of sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices.

In its report, the SEI reported that the college did not make shareholder voting records of its commingled funds public. The organization also pointed out how the college’s investment committee reserves the right to restrict investments, which could include sustainability factors.

“Essentially it’s our lack of transparency [in endowments],” Mark Darling, sustainability programs coordinator for the college, said.

The college had an endowment of $178.9 million as of Sept. 30, Carl Sgrecci, vice president of finance and administration for the college, said.

Darling said the college takes a financially conservative approach to doling out money for sustainability, and the campus community has little say in the process of where that money goes.

Sgrecci said the college’s departments each have their own methodology for handling sustainability, making it difficult to track how much money specifically goes to sustainable practices.

“Departments all across the campus participate in supporting sustainability, and we don’t attempt to ask people to report how much of their time is used on [sustainability] so that we can allocate part of their salaries to the effort,” Sgrecci said.

Sgrecci said private holdings are a primary reason the college has difficulty making the process transparent. Because most of the stocks held by the college are mutual funds, in which many different investors have holdings, the college isn’t able to vote on certain resolutions, Sgrecci said.

Flynn said transparency greatly affects grading for institutions.

“It’s really just about opening up the dialogue so that many people know exactly where the money’s going,” Flynn said.

Sgrecci said he has never denied a member of the campus community access to endowment holdings.

Marian Brown, special assistant to the provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the lack of transparency is a result of mutual funds, which make up 98.3 percent of the college’s endowments.

Darling said the college should form a committee that would include students in the process of sharing endowment information with the campus community. He said this type of community engagement supports the goals outlined in the IC20/20 vision plan released earlier this semester.

The only other low grade on the report was in the subject of investment priorities. In regards to the subject, Green Report Card said: “the college aims to optimize investment returns and does not invest the endowment in on-campus sustainability projects, renewable energy funds or community development loan funds.”

Despite the two C grades, Darling said the college is still a front-runner in sustainability initiatives compared to other institutions.

“It looks like we’re not doing enough when in fact we’ve lowered our carbon output through energy conservation in the past year to [around] 6 percent,” Darling said. “So we’re ahead of our targets.”

In comparison to nearby institutions, Cornell University received an overall A-, garnering As and Bs in all categories but “Shareholder Engagement,” in which it received a C. Syracuse University received a overall grade of a B, with a C in “Student Involvement” and a D in “Shareholder Engagement.”

The college scored high in the student involvement category, with an A.

Senior Stephanie Piech, who has had sustainability internships with the college, said the student atmosphere lends itself to opportunities in sustainability.

“The student involvement in the classroom and out is outstanding,” she said. “Most of the progress on campus stemmed from student research and projects.”

Brown said ultimately, she feels positive about the college’s efforts.

“The fact that we got high scores in a number of the other areas related to education and outreach and operations speaks highly of our efforts in this area,” she said. “One report card score does not really indicate what we’re doing as a whole campus community to become more sustainable.”