Green Investment, Green Return - Executive Summary

A healthy environment or a sound economy? This choice, business and academic leaders are proving, is a false one. The fact is, most college and university conservation efforts actually improve financial and environmental performance.

This report highlights the pioneering work of academic institutions across the country that have achieved the twin goals of saving money and saving the earth. They have demonstrated, in theory and in practice, the compatibility of a healthy environment with a sound economy: two essential components of a sustainable future for people and nature.

The following 23 case studies highlight cost-saving conservation stories at 15 public and private colleges and universities, ranging in size from a few thousand to 40,000 students. Project categories include transportation, energy and water conservation, materials re-use and re-distribution, composting, recycling and management of hazardous chemicals.

Savings per project range from a little more than $1,000 to around $9 million per year. The combined annual savings realized across this sampling of projects is an impressive $16,755,500. The cumulative savings over the years, of course, is even greater. For instance, the costs avoided through a variety of energy conservation projects implemented consistently over the years at the State University of New York at Buffalo exceed $60 million.

The potential for cost-effective environmental improvement on college campuses is staggering. If the resource and financial savings these 15 campuses have realized were multiplied across the nation's 3,700 institutions of higher learning, the impact on the environment and on school budgets would be enormous. If each campus, for example, secured merely one-tenth of the annual water savings achieved by Columbia University's recent retrofit program, the nation's colleges would collectively reduce U.S. water consumption by over 22 billion gallons a year. And if every campus reduced carbon dioxide emissions by only one-tenth of what Cornell University has achieved through its transportation demand management programs, colleges and universities would prevent emissions of over 2.4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When the average savings of $728,500 for the 23 projects highlighted here is multiplied across the remaining 3,685 colleges and universities, the savings top $2.6 billion. Or, on a more modest level, if every campus in America realized the energy-related savings of the 2,000-student Elizabethtown College, the combined savings for all campuses would exceed $900 million.

As the campuses featured here have realized, saving the environment can clearly save money and, whether viewed in terms of quantifiable benefits, such as dollars, gallons and tons, or considered in less quantifiable ones, such as setting a good example for students, the stakes of campus greening efforts are high.

Green Investment, Green Return stands as a challenge to higher education decision-makers and stakeholders not yet in serious pursuit of opportunities to improve their environmental and economic profile: To those readers the message is simply "get involved." Campus ecology can protect unique natural resources, conserve dwindling supplies of fresh, clean water, slash toxic emissions and train new generations of environmentally savvy citizens. What's more, such projects can yield a strong return on financial investment. If 15 colleges and universities can save and make nearly $17 million over the course of 12 months, any institution can find its own approach to saving money by saving the environment.

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