U scores well in new “green” ratings

The school might have made the “honor roll” in the Princeton Review ratings if it had a LEED-certification policy, but officials say it actually has a stronger policy in place.

From grocery bags to fuel, everything these days is judged for its greenness. Higher education institutions now join that list.

The University scored a 91 as its greenness rating in the Princeton Review’s latest edition of its “Best 368 Colleges ” book.

The ratings mark the first time the company has included a green ratings category. They were released last week and took into account things like academic offerings, administrative policies and institutional practices.

Eleven schools nationwide achieved the top score of 99 and made the “honor roll.” The lowest possible score is a 60.

Although the University fared well in categories that look at offering an environment studies major and vegetarian meals in residence halls, it stumbled in the area of LEED certification, David Soto , Princeton Review’s director of college ratings , said.

Being LEED certified means that a building is environmentally responsible.

The University responded to the Princeton Review’s survey that it doesn’t have a policy requiring its buildings to be LEED-certified, he said.

“That was one of the main [issues],” Soto said. “The lack of a commitment to LEED or a comparable building policy.”

However, the University’s Institute on the Environment Interim Director Deb Swackhamer said the University doesn’t have a LEED requirement because it upholds its buildings to what the school thinks to be a more stringent policy.

The school follows a policy called B3 , which, unlike the LEED certification checklist, requires buildings to stand up to performance tests, she said.

“University of Minnesota scholars developed the B3 guidelines, and they developed them because they felt that the LEED system was inadequate,” Swackhamer said.

She said she was otherwise pleased with the rating the University received, as it recognized the school for its array of environmentally sound policies.

“To have a rating that’s consistent with how we think we actually are doing is very heartening,” she said. “If we had gotten a low score, I would have been quite upset.”

However, Amy Short , sustainability coordinator for University Services , said she is cautious about the ratings.

Citing other schools’ scores and the points docked from the University for its lack of a LEED policy, she said she wondered if the people behind the ratings asked the right people the right questions.

Part of that, however, may stem from the fact that the rating is new and that it may need to evolve in the future, Short said.

Although only 38 schools are recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as having LEED policies or initiatives in place, the council sees the rating as a good assessment of how environmentally committed a school is, the council’s spokeswoman, Ashley Katz, said.

In addition to rating schools, the Princeton Review also published survey results that found that 63 percent of students and their parents value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment – something Katz said already happens.

“If a school has an environmental curriculum but they don’t have any LEED-certified buildings, it makes them consider what kind of school they’re enrolling in or looking at,” she said.