UK refutes sustainability report

By Drew Teague & Patrick Sullivan

While students rarely get a chance to dispute their test grades, UK is making an effort to refute its latest sustainability grade.

On Wednesday, the Sustainable Endowments Institute released its annual College Sustainability Report Card for 2011 on Wednesday, and UK received a C+ for its overall grade. Last year UK received a B-.

However, the lower grade is not indicative of UK’s environmental progress, Sustainability Coordinator Shane Tedder said.

“Contrary to the findings of the report card, UK is in a better place now than we were 12 months ago,” Tedder said.

Tedder attributes the lower sustainability grade to changes in the institute’s grading methods. Sustainable Endowments Institute Communications Director Susan Paykin said the changes were put in place to hold schools to higher standards, but Vice President of Facilities Bob Wiseman is skeptical of the report card.

“It has been my long-held belief that the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s annual  report is highly subjective,” Wiseman said in an e-mail to the Kernel. “It lacks appropriate data collection methodologies, is driven by ‘apples to oranges’ comparisons and offers little of real value for evaluation of institutional progress on sustainability matters and environmental initiatives.”

One improvement to UK’s sustainability is a new website that allows users to view many of the campus’ environmental facets, Tedder said.

In addition to the website, Tedder said his new sustainability coordinator position, which was created within the last year, has made UK’s efforts more efficient.

Tedder also cited a $25 million energy efficiency and retrofit project and more student interest as factors in UK’s sustainable development. UK has also implemented energy efficiency in its classes to foster student involvement.

“There’s a lot of interest in integrating sustainability into the curriculum and getting it into the course work,” Tedder said. “That’s an area that the Sustainability Report Card really doesn’t address.”

Tedder said two new community gardens and increased recycling throughout campus have contributed to a greener campus.

With its multiple efforts, the mediocre grade on the report card has not fazed UK, Tedder said.

“We feel that there is a need and demand for comparing the sustainability initiatives of colleges and universities,” he said. “So earlier this year, the University of Kentucky became a charter participant in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System or STARS for short.  STARS was developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Ed with feedback from scores of institutions.  We feel that STARS is a more complete, more transparent and more relevant tool for comparing the efforts of various schools.”

Although taking steps in the right direction, Tedder said he would like to see sustainability improvement in student driving.

“I have a feeling there are a lot of people who drive by themselves for school, class or work daily when there are more sustainable options available to them like carpooling, public transit walking or biking,” he said. “I think that is one area we could really improve in.”