With $12 million pledged towards investments in energy efficiency, Harvard University currently leads the pack in the Billion Dollar Green Challenge.
Launched today by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the initiative challenges colleges and universities to collectively raise $1 billion towards low-emission technologies.
To date, 33 institutions—including Dartmouth and Stanford Universities—have committed a total of roughly $65 million.
“We’re transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities,” said Mark Orlowski, founder and executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, in a press release.
The University’s $12 million Green Campus Loan Fund, first established in the 1990s, grants loans of up to $500,000 for energy conservation projects to each of Harvard’s schools.
“Harvard is at the forefront to show that energy conservation should be funded,” said Heather A. Henriksen, director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability, which manages the funds.
Orlowski said that funds such as the Green Campus Loan Fund are revolving, meaning that a portion of the returns will replenish the money withdrawn. For example, Harvard has seen about 30 percent yearly returns on the fund for the last decade, he said.
While he lauded the University for their contributions, Orlowski added that Harvard might consider “further expanding” their financial commitments to green technology.
“Harvard has 25 million square feet of building, and 12 million dollars is good but can only stretch so far,” he said. “Think about how old these [Harvard] buildings are. Think about how old the lighting is.”
Orlowski cited Weber State University’s pledge of $9 million—the third-largest contribution to the Challenge—as an example of a school that has devoted significant financial resources towards energy efficiency.
Henriksen maintained that Harvard’s fund—both the largest and oldest green fund amongst universities—speaks for the University’s commitment to sustainability.
She added that the office may contribute some of the funds to energy conservation projects with longer paybacks, greater payoffs, and higher costs in the future.
“We are still in an evolutionary period,” Henriksen said. “We have learned so much from the past 10 years and we can evolve even further.”
Beyond funding, Harvard has played another leadership role in the Challenge by helping other schools set up similar funds, Orlowski said.
“We are learning from existing revolving funds, not reinventing them,” he said. “Harvard has been very generous in helping and assisting other schools.”
He added that Harvard’s fund also demonstrates that green initiatives can also be economically savvy.
“This fund has been great proof of how doing good by the environment also does well economically,” Orlowski said.