State of the Campus Environment Questions and Answers

Is this the first time a national survey on environmental performance and sustainability has been conducted?

The State of the Campus Environment is the first large-scale environmental performance survey, developed in response to the lack of information on higher education environmental performance. Higher education statistics cover an array of issues, such as enrollments, costs, state regulations, competitiveness, and cultural diversity, but until this point, have overlooked a fundamental indicator - environmental sustainability.

Why focus on higher education?

Educating more than 14 million students from around the globe each year, colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to provide the knowledge and skills needed to strike the balance between human needs and those of the natural world upon which all forms of life depend. The 4,100 campuses in the United States spend more than $200 billion collectively and work with thousands of vendors and include offices, research labs, hospitals, residential housing, food services, landscaping and infrastructure. These activities provide college and universities with ample opportunities to devise and demonstrate more environmentally sustainable practices, and to incorporate these lessons into the classroom.

Why assess trends in campus environmental performance?

Until now, campus environmental information has been largely anecdotal, based on case studies and informed guesses. Some of the typical questions include: Has campus environmental performance improved or worsened in recent years? Are activity levels up or down? Which campuses are truly models overall or stand out in particular areas? The findings are intended not only to provide a baseline of current performance trends nationwide, but also benchmarks for evaluating environmental performance at individual institutions and comparing performance with peers.

What is the importance of the resulting data?

The State of the Campus Environment report provides a means on the national and institutional level for assessing, comparing and improving environmental performance, while heightening public interest and stimulating dialogue about environmental aspects of educational performance.

To whom was the survey distributed and how?

Harnessing the power of the Web, NWF's Campus Ecology program, in concert with the social research firm Princeton Survey Research Associates, developed and distributed an electronic survey to presidents, provosts, and chiefs of facilities or operations at 3,900 of the 4,100 colleges and universities in the United States. (View the section on Methodology to learn more about the polling procedure - pages 75-78 in the printed report).

How is the survey organized and what issues are addressed?

The State of the Campus Environment survey is composed of three surveys in one. Since no one individual on campus would be able to effectively answer all the questions on environmental performance — goals and policies, curriculum integration, environmental literacy, transportation, energy use and conservation, purchasing, and recycling — three separate modules were designed for presidents, provosts, and chief of facilities or operations. Upon logging onto the survey, each respondent was notified as to whom else on his or her campus had received the survey. (To learn more about the survey, view the sections on Methodology and Topline Results - pages 75-78 and 109-136 in the printed report).

What was the response rate?

The survey generated 1,116 responses from presidents, provosts, and chiefs of administration and operations at 891 of the nation's 4,100 colleges and universities (almost 22 percent of schools and almost 23 percent of those surveyed). Separate modules were designed for management practices, curriculum and operations, and were completed by 471 presidents, 320 provosts, and 325 facilities chiefs. The margin of error for results from the facilities and provost module is +/-5, and for the president module is +/-4.

As the first survey of its kind, this participation level demonstrates a serious interest and commitment to advancing environmental sustainability initiatives on campus. View the Executive Summary and Methodology sections to learn more about national response rates - pages 1-10 and 75-78 in the printed report).

Did my campus participate?

View a list of participating schools section — pages 79-96 in the printed report — for a complete listing of campus respondents and contacts, as well as campus response rates by state.

How did my campus score? Which is the greenest campus?

As noted in the report, campuses were highlighted that stand out because of exemplary programs in specific areas. Additionally, all responding campuses and contact titles are listed. To learn more about how the leading schools were determined, view the Criteria for Exemplary Schools section (pages 105-108 in the printed report).

National Wildlife Federation intentionally chose not to rank individual institutions. This type of ranking, it was believed, could undermine the ultimate intent of the survey - to improve environmental performance.

Are the responding campuses truly representative of all institutions, or is the sample unfairly skewed toward the greenest campuses?

Princeton Survey Research Associates and NWF have no reason to believe that the results of this survey are unfairly skewed towards campuses with environmental programming already in place. A few of the reasons are as follows:

  • There are many campuses with exemplary programs that we know of and work with whose data are not included in the report;
  • Respondents consistently indicated low activity levels in certain areas; and
  • At the close of each module, each respondent was given the ability to highlight additional comments and questions. These open-ended sections provided much insight into the reality of the divergent priorities and struggles with which campuses are faced.

How was the grading scale for the Report Card determined?

National Wildlife Federation chose to grade campuses on a somewhat generous scale, as activity levels of 60-100% receive an A. It must be noted, however, that most grades were distributed based upon activity levels and therefore do not necessarily reflect the depth or quality of performance. For example, campuses receive an A- for array of materials recycled, but only a C for average diversion rates (the amount ultimately diverted from landfills and incinerators).

View the Executive Summary (pages 1-10 in the printed report) to learn more about the grading rationale. Also, view the Report Card section to learn about the grading scale, as well as the cross-section of issues graded. This section provides grades by region (nationwide, East, Midwest, South and West) and type of school (2-year and 4-year).

How often will this survey be conducted?

As with any goal-based assessment, survey efforts and the resulting data are even more useful when reassessed on a continual basis. NWF's Campus Ecology program, thus, intends to undertake this project every three years.

How can I use this data to advance environmental initiatives on my campus? What other resources are available to facilitate efforts in higher education?

While the findings provide a snapshot of national environmental performance, they can be used to assess and improve performance on individual campuses. They highlight opportunities and good practices, and can facilitate the tracking and refinement of goals.

To learn more about making the connection between national environmental performance data and your campus' performance, view the Benchmarking and Assessment section (pages 97-104 in the printed report). To learn more about the variety of tools, resources, publications, associations, organizations and Web sites available to assist in the greening of higher education, view the Acknowledgments and Resources section (pages 137-144 in the printed report).

Also, learn more about the Campus Ecology program's offerings, such as enrollments, workshops, fellowships, publications and more, by viewing the rest of our Web site.

What other organizations and associations has NWF worked with on this project?

NWF's Campus Ecology program sought input in fine-tuning the survey from more than 140 leaders in higher education and the environmental community. NWF also enjoyed the support of 14 co-sponsoring higher education associations and organizations, from operations-focused organizations, such as APPA: The Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers and the Society for College and University Planning, to environmental organizations, such as World Resources Institute and the Center for a New American Dream. For a complete listing of the co-sponsoring groups and individuals that provided feedback, view the Acknowledgments and Resources section (pages 137-144 in the printed report).

Additionally, in March 2001 the Campus Ecology program co-hosted a higher education Stakeholder Meeting with University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF), titled "Assessing Progress Toward Sustainability in Higher Education," to discuss the barriers to and opportunities for continued progress in elevating environmental sustainability as a central concern in higher education. NWF also commissioned an independent consultant to interview leaders in higher education associations, such as the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), American Association of Higher Education (AAHE), American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) and U.S. News and World Report. As we work to advance sustainability in higher education, NWF continues to seek input from those involved at a variety of levels, most importantly higher education association decision-makers.

Back to the State of the Campus Environment page.

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