U to invest $4M for green fund

Over four years, 33 colleges will join in energy-saving projects.

Yasin Mohamud

The University of Minnesota, joining 33 other colleges and universities in the âÄúBillion Dollar Green Challenge,âÄù will invest $4 million to energy-saving projects over the next four years.

The challenge, coordinated by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, calls for schools to invest a total of $1 billion to reduce energy consumption on campuses across the country.

âÄúThe projects range from installing more efficient lighting in a parking garage to upgrading the insulation in a dorm,âÄù said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Institute.

The $1 billion will come from self-managed revolving funds that schools will put together to invest in green projects. So far, the challengeâÄôs âÄúFounding Circle,âÄù which includes Harvard, Stanford and Arizona State universities, has committed $65 million to the initiative.

âÄúUniversities are so big and complex and thereâÄôs not enough money to invest in green projects,âÄù Orlowski said.

âÄúThese revolving funds solve these problems by having a separate, dedicated fund that looks at these projects as investment opportunities rather than as expenses,âÄù he said.

The idea for the project came from many universities wanting to make their campuses greener but not having the funds to do so. The Institute has been developing this challenge for more than a year.

Though Orlowski said he has seen a lot of progress in sustainability efforts on campuses, financial resources are a limiting factor.

The University of Minnesota is the only Big Ten school in the challenge and coordinators hope this will inspire other Big Ten schools to participate.

The University received an A- on the College Sustainability Report Card in 2010. Amy Short, sustainability director for the UniversityâÄôs facilities, said she hopes to continue this trend by participating in the challenge.

âÄúOur Board of Regents adopted a sustainability and energy efficiency policy years ago so this is nothing really new for us,âÄù she said.

The University will be contributing $4 million over four years and expects to see a return on its investment by way of savings from increased energy conservation. The money will come from the UniversityâÄôs internal loan pool, Short said.

She said the school has not decided which specific green projects to tackle first.

Kerrick Robinson, a University student and an environmental task force leader for the student-directed Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, said heâÄôs excited that the University is participating in the challenge.

âÄúIâÄôm all for the idea because in the long run itâÄôs going to save us money and make our campus a lot more environmentally friendly, which is always a good thing,âÄù he said.

The challenge launches Oct. 11 at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in Pittsburgh, the largest such conference to date with more than 2,500 participants.

Many schools still look at energy efficiency as an expense, Orlowski said.

âÄúOur ultimate goal is to prove to everyone that energy efficiency is a savvy and exciting and, most importantly, high-return investment opportunity,âÄù he said.