GVSU cultivates green legacy
For the second time, Grand Valley State University has been named one of the greenest universities in the country by the Sierra Club.
“The university is honored to be recognized by the Sierra Club,” said Matt McLogan, vice president for university relations at GVSU. “For the second year in a row, Grand Valley—the only public university in Michigan to make the list—scored high in areas of operations, innovation and planning. This, I think, demonstrates our ongoing commitment to sustainable practices.”
GVSU was ranked 40th out of 162 schools, making it the highest-ranking Michigan institution on the list of “Coolest Schools.” The Sierra Club is one of the largest grassroots environmental organizations in the U.S., which advocates for climate mitigation and adaptation and publicly raises issues in the environmental sector while looking for areas to create and improve best practices.
Schools evaluated by the Club demonstrated strong commitments to environmental improvement by helping to solve climate problems and improving sustainability. To create the list, the Sierra Club evaluated scores from a 1,000-question questionnaire on measurable sustainable goals and achievements over the course of the past year. The questionnaire was created by the Sierra Club in conjunction with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Sustainable Endowments Institute and the Princeton Review.
GVSU’s rating was received earlier this year, making the university the only one in the state and one of 45 in the country to be awarded a gold rating in the AASHE STARS (Sustainability Tracking,
Assessment and Rating System) evaluation that the Sierra Club uses to calculate its rankings. The university’s score improved from 585 points last year to 654 points, receiving the highest scores in the operations, innovation and planning sectors, but there are also areas in which the university needs to improve.
“There are some categories where we don’t do as well as the competition,” said Norman Christopher, executive director of the Sustainable Community Development Initiative at GVSU.
“There’s one area known as investments—that’s one area where we could improve. Maybe doing some additional applied research in specific areas (and) we could buy more local products.”
The rating systems are important to the university because they assist in GVSU’s ability to establish goals and assess progress in the area of sustainability, said James Moyer, associate vice president for Facilities Planning.
“Self-assessment is a great tool for defining objectives and work plans,” Moyer said. “(But) third party assessments measure you against your competitors and peers, and that is a good thing. The sustainability commitment can be in place without this measure. However, how one does is determined by examination; this is the same approach that is used in teaching—we teach, we learn, we test and measure achievement.”
Though there is always room for improvement, GVSU has accomplished much and is grateful for the acknowledgment, said Anne Hiskes, dean of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies.
“While GVSU faculty and staff should be proud of GVSU’s ranking, the ranking itself is not as important as the progress that GVSU has been making in sustainability over the past several years,”
Hiskes said. “The future of our planet and human civilization depends on each of us doing what we can to achieve environmental, economic and social sustainability-related goals.”