Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU earns good grades for going green

The University of Denver goes to the head of the class when it comes to sustainability, a national survey finds.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute of Cambridge, Mass., surveyed the 322 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada with endowments of more than $160 million and graded them on its annual College Sustainability Report Card. With a grade of A-, DU was among the top 52 schools in the country to receive an A.

The institute, founded in 2005, is a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and is funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the United Nations Foundation and other groups.

“It’s a really good benchmark and reference point to see what we’ve been doing in these areas,” says geography Professor Rebecca Powell, chair of the DU Sustainability Council. “It is really exciting.”

Powell says the report is a valuable overview of DU’s efforts provided by a third party. DU has raised its grade from a B+ last year and a B two years ago, with the improvements coinciding with the rise of the Sustainability Council and concerted, campus-wide efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. Over the past two years, the University has initiated a robust single-stream recycling program, added food composting in dining halls, reduced the use of air conditioning in the summer and replaced lighting with more efficient systems, among other programs.

In this year’s survey, DU scored “A” grades for dining services and the purchase of locallygrown foods, environmentally friendly building policies and greenhouse gas reduction efforts.

Of the five schools surveyed in Colorado, DU was the highest scoring research institution, sharing the top grade of A- only with Colorado College. Colorado State University and the University of Colorado both received grades of B+, and the Colorado School of Mines received a C.

The DU Sustainability Council meets monthly, bringing together faculty, staff and students interested in finding sustainable solutions to everyday energy needs. The council meets monthly, and all are welcome to attend. Meeting times and locations are online at

Results and Findings from the Green Report Card by the Sustainable Endowments Institute:


Grade: B

The Sustainability Council at the University of Denver has worked to bring about a bike-sharing program, a reduction in energy use and an increase in green building. Energy Star products and EPEAT-certified computers are purchased regularly, and 59 percent of office paper is postconsumer recycled. A revolving loan fund finances campus sustainability projects.

Climate Change & Energy

Grade: A

The University has reduced greenhouse gas emissions 5 percent from 2006 levels and aims to achieve a 16 percent reduction by 2020. To reduce energy use, lighting and kitchen hoods have been upgraded for efficiency; economizers and energy management systems are utilized in 89 percent of buildings; and temperature setbacks have been implemented for peak demand times. Competitions encourage departments to reduce energy use.

Food & Recycling

Grade: A

Dining services spend 38 percent of its food budget on local products. All milk products and almost all yogurt served on campus is hormone and antibiotic free, and fair trade coffee is available at all dining locations. The two main dining halls compost pre- and postconsumer food waste; 98 percent of landscaping waste is mulched; and electronics are collected for recycling.

Green Building

Grade: A

All new construction at DU must meet LEED Silver standards. Two campus buildings are LEED certified and six meet LEED criteria. Since 2000, DU has repurposed four spaces for alternative use. Low-flow plumbing fixtures have been installed in some buildings, and the University uses weather-informed irrigation. The campus also features a green roof to manage stormwater.

Student Involvement

Grade: B

The Environmental Team has worked on a variety of initiatives, including efforts to reduce waste and encourage purchasing local and organic food in dining halls as well as the organization of an Earth Day celebration and a lightbulb exchange program. The sustainability committee of the student senate is involved with the community and permaculture gardens, the campus bike-sharing program and a bottled water reduction initiative.


Grade: B

Employees receive free unlimited passes for local transit, and student bus and rail passes are discounted about 93 percent. DU provides online ride-matching to carpoolers and partners with a bike-sharing program. Fifty-one percent of off-campus students and 30 percent of employees commute via environmentally preferable methods.

Endowment Transparency

Grade: B

The University makes a list of all holdings available online to all members of the school community. Only information about asset allocation is available online to the public. The University does not make the shareholder voting record of its commingled funds public.

Investment Priorities

Grade: A

The University aims to optimize investment returns, and the endowment is currently invested in community development loan funds. The University also uses investment managers who consider environmental and sustainability factors.


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