With economic and social challenges ranging from climate commitments to deferred maintenance, how can colleges and universities make the investments necessary to control their costs and reduce carbon emissions? As energy efficiency projects directly compete with limited funds to pay for other expenses, how can colleges and universities capitalize on long-term efficiency investments that could transform how all institutions approach sustainability?
This past spring Efficiency Vermont began a series of conversations with several presidents from Vermont’s colleges and universities. These conversations yielded valuable insights regarding institutional goals, barriers, and opportunities. One common theme was that budget constraints were preventing Vermont schools from taking advantage of numerous cost-effective, low-risk investment opportunities across their campuses.
Responding to these market concerns, Efficiency Vermont, in partnership with the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI), launched a statewide initiative to raise awareness with college presidents and administrators about an innovative investment tool for colleges and universities – the Green Revolving Fund (GRF). GRFs invest in enhancing energy efficiency and decreasing resource use, thereby reducing operating expenses and greenhouse gas emissions. By treating the energy efficiency opportunities as an investment portfolio instead of budgetary costs, a college can make progress towards its environmental goals and bottom line while assuring that capital will be available for future energy efficiency investments.
Why GRFs and colleges? Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned for this innovative approach. Capitalizing GRFs can come from a variety of sources such as endowment investments, alumni donations, annual budget allocations, utility rebates, among other sources. SEI has produced a report on GRFs including several case studies that illustrate the various ways GRFs can be managed, funded, and utilized. The report also provides some excellent data indicating that the performance of these investment funds is very high.
Vermont college presidents have responded to the idea. At a GRF Symposium on held on October 4, 2011 at the Basin Harbor Club in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, three institutions (Middlebury College, Green Mountain College, and Burlington College) announced their commitment to launch their own GRF. Many other Vermont schools have come forward with requests for assistance. Thanks to a grant from the High Meadows Fund, Efficiency Vermont and SEI will be able to provide one-on-one assistance to help Vermont colleges craft a GRF proposal.
Richard Donnelly is a Planning & Development Manager at Efficiency Vermont, a statewide energy efficiency utility helping all Vermonters lower their energy costs. Richard primarily serves institutional markets, including colleges, K-12 schools, state buildings, and healthcare.