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ASU Joins Billion Dollar Green Challenge

Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Updated: Thursday, October 27, 2011 13:10

Green ASU Billion Dollar Challenge

Brandon Questor • Cronkite News Service

Daniel Baldonado, a contract worker for steel fabrication company Icronco Enterprises, installs solar panels on the roof of Wells Fargo Arena on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

Arizona State University joined the Billion Dollar Green Challenge this month, promoting improved sustainable efforts on campus.

The Challenge, sponsored by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, aims to get colleges and universities across the nation to collectively invest $1 billion in sustainable projects through green revolving funds.

When a school creates a green revolving fund, the school agrees to invest a certain amount of money that will be dedicated to overall efficiency upgrades. A portion of that fund is used for a specific project, and once the energy savings from that project are calculated, some or all of the savings are then reinvested to replenish the fund. Over time, the projects begin paying for themselves.

In February 2011, the SEI released "Greening the Bottom Line," which analyzed the results of the first-ever survey of green revolving funds in higher education. Combining the survey results with the SEI's annual college sustainability report card data, the institute began creating the Challenge, said Leeor Schweitzer, a research fellow for SEI.

"We began realizing the best way for colleges to be sustainable was through a green revolving fund," he said, adding that schools like Harvard University had seen successful returns in savings from such funds.

Green revolving funds "come in many different flavors," Schweitzer said. ASU's Sustainable Initiatives Revolving Fund, the $1.5 million fund created for the 2011 fiscal year, offers three tiers of funding.

The first tier, according to the ASU page of the Challenge's website, offers micro grants to small projects devoted to increasing student engagement. Projects focused on upgrading and renovating space and equipment that return costs within six years or less fall under tier two. The final tier encompasses large-scale projects that create a "significant and measurable sustainability impact and return a project's costs within 10 years or less," according to the website.

When ASU joined the project, the school's Sustainable Initiatives Revolving Fund was not increased, said Betty Lombardo, program coordinator for University Sustainability Practices, in an email, although it may increase in the future once additional savings are secured.

ASU joined 31 other schools in the Founder's Circle — the original members — in the Challenge. Collectively, the 32 schools have committed to invest $65 million over the next four years, Schweitzer said.

Schools that already had a fund in place have seen an annual decrease in energy costs of between 23 percent and 47 percent, Schweitzer said.

Ultimately, the Challenge would like to see as many schools participate as possible, he said, but the overall goal is to get the schools to collectively commit $1 billion in investments.

Currently, the institute is working to get the word out about the project and gain momentum within the participating schools, he said, so no specific date has been set for reaching the billion dollar commitment.

Any school, no matter the size, can join the project. The only restriction, Schweitzer said, is the size of the fund. Schools must commit to a fund that is 1 percent of the school's endowment or $1 million; whichever is smallest at that school.

For schools that are just starting out, the institute provides the school with five free consulting hours to help establish the fund. An online tool that will enable schools to keep better track of their energy savings and, thus, the revolving fund, is another benefit for schools that join the Challenge.

Aside from the resources offered by the institute, participating schools become part of a directory for sustainable schools that they can use to collaborate with other schools, Schweitzer said.

"As soon as they complete a project, there is a drop in energy use," Schweitzer said, although the amount of decrease depends on the size of the project and how much energy the school was using before.

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