College Secures “A-” Grade in Sustainability Report Card
By Isabelle D'Arcy, News Section Editor
When a student next receives an A- on a paper or a test, he can think of himself to be just as good as his College. For the second year in a row, Amherst College received an A- on its annual College Sustainability Report Card from the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

The College is one of 322 colleges and universities evaluated in the U.S. and Canada. The primary qualification for inclusion is the size of a school’s endowment.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute is a nonprofit organization working to prioritize sustainability in campus operations and endowment spending. The College received high marks in six of the nine categories of evaluation. The College is consistently lowering Greenhouse Gas emissions through its dedication to renewable energy, which currently composes 30 percent of its energy. In addition, implementation of lighting censors, installation of solar panels and purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles among other things earned Amherst the grade ‘A’ in the ‘Climate Change and Energy’ category. Amherst also did well in ‘Food and Recycling’ due to continued efforts by Dining Services to buy sustainable and local food, which accounts for 5 percent of Valentine food costs, and the composting system in Valentine Dining Hall.

The College’s lowest grades were in ‘Administration’ and ‘Student Involvement.’ Green Amherst Project (GAP) president David Emmerman ’11 credited the College’s progress to the work of “independent actors” like Physical Plant, and pointed to the administration’s lack of a unified sustainability effort for weighing down the grade. According to the institute, the College has no Environmental Center to engage the administration and the students in moving forward with sustainability. This also inhibits Amherst from having a sustainability internship program like other top colleges and universities. Harvard has 42 such sustainability interns, Williams has two Environmental Centers and Middlebury has six different student environmental organizations. Yet, all of these schools received the same grade as the College, due largely to Amherst’s move to make its endowment transparent in 2008, something many other schools have yet to do. Because an objective of the Sustainable Endowments Institute is to get colleges and universities to spend their endowment sustainably, this category of ‘Endowment Transparency’ is given equal weight to the other eight categories. As a result, some schools that received high grades for on-campus sustainability efforts were downgraded because information about their endowment and spending is kept private.

Despite the College’s lack of at least one full-time sustainability staff member, the only student environmental group on campus, GAP, continues to demand more support from the administration. Emmerman explained, “Many of the aforementioned projects of Physical Plant and Dining Services were started in response to student demand through GAP, composting being a notable example. Physical Plant continually relies on GAP for its student energy use reduction programs, such as the Lightbulb Exchange that takes place each fall.”

Some of GAP’s current projects include creating an Amherst bike share program, creating a “Green Green Dean” position in the administration with the long-term goal of an Environmental Center, pressuring the administration to commit to a carbon neutrality plan and continuing to raise awareness on campus about environmental issues.

Students seem to be generally positive about Amherst’s environmental progress. “I didn’t know we were so sustainable, but I’m very optimistic about Amherst becoming more environmentally friendly in the near future,” Celia Ou ’13 remarked.

Despite the College’s improving grades over the years, from a B- in 2007 to an A- this year, there is still much to be done. AAS Senator Sam Bell ’11 is “very happy with the direction we are moving in,” though he is concerned that “so far most of the work has been admirable efforts on the part of individuals rather than a broad commitment by the College.”

The College’s Sustainability Report Card can be viewed at

Issue 08, Submitted 2010-11-03 02:51:36