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WMU joins national launch of $1 billion Green Challenge

by Cheryl Roland

Oct. 11, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of solar panels at WMU.
Solar panels at WMU
KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University joined 32 other leading institutions today to launch the Billion Dollar Green Challenge. The goal is to invest a cumulative total of $1 billion in self-managed green revolving funds that finance energy efficiency upgrades on campus.

As part of the Founding Circle for the initiative, Western Michigan University has the distinction of being the only institution in Michigan to take the lead in making this commitment. The challenge is inspired by the exceptional performance of existing green revolving funds, which have a median annual return on investment of 32 percent, as documented by the report Greening the Bottom Line, published earlier this year by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

A bright spot in a rocky economy, these profitable investments are helping create green jobs in campus communities, while lowering operating costs on college and university campuses.

"We’re transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities," said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which is coordinating the challenge along with 13 partner organizations. "Western Michigan University should be commended for rising to the challenge and investing in energy efficiency improvements on campus."

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge launched publicly Oct. 11 at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in Pittsburgh. With more than 2,500 participants, including representatives of Western Michigan University, the conference is the largest gathering to date on higher education sustainability.

"The Billion Dollar Green Challenge asks our higher education systems to invest in green revolving funds to support the campus sustainability movement. AASHE supports the challenge because these funds will help institutions become more sustainable and will help the higher education community understand the commitment they are making to a just and sustainable future,"says Paul Rowland, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

In advance of the launch, 33 institutions, including WMU, joined the challenge's Founding Circle by committing to invest a cumulative total of more than $65 million in green revolving funds. In addition to Harvard, Stanford and Arizona State universities, other Founding Circle institutions include Cal Tech, Dartmouth College, George Washington University, Middlebury College, the University of British Columbia, and Boston University. (See complete list at the end of this release.)

Several Founding Circle schools have already established funds and are enthusiastic about the benefits. Green revolving funds typically finance energy conservation improvements on campus, then reinvest the savings achieved into new improvements that will generate even larger savings. At WMU, a quasi-green revolving fund has been in place since 1980, making it the oldest such fund in the nation.

"Reinvesting energy savings in our campus infrastructure is a tradition that dates back more than 30 years at Western Michigan University," says Jan Van Der Kley, WMU vice president for business and finance. "We're proud to have done some pioneering work in this area and truly excited to be part of a national initiative that allows us to showcase what we've accomplished, achieve even more savings and continue our campus path to sustainability."

Guided by a 34-member expert advisory council, the Billion Dollar Green Challenge offers technical assistance, best practices sharing, access to an advanced web-based tool for managing green revolving funds, peer institutions' project-specific data and invitations to specialized webinars and conferences.

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge has received financial support from the David Rockefeller Fund, HOK, John Merck Fund, Kresge Foundation, Merck Family Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Roy A. Hunt Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership and the Wallace Global Fund.

Visit for more information.

About the Sustainable Endowments Institute

The Sustainable Endowments Institute was founded in 2005 as a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The Cambridge, Msss.-based nonprofit organization has pioneered research and education to advance sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices.

Billion Dollar Green Challenge - Founding Circle institutions
Agnes Scott College
Arizona State University
Bellevue College
Berkshire School
Bethany College
Boston University
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
Burlington College
California Institute of Technology
Daemen College
Dartmouth College
Denison University
Edgewood College
George Washington University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Green Mountain College
Hampshire College
Harvard University
Mars Hill College
Middlebury College
Northland College
Oregon State University
St. Lawrence University
Stanford University
Thompson Rivers University
Unity College
University of Arizona
University of British Columbia
University of Minnesota
University of New Hampshire
University of Oregon
Weber State University
Western Michigan University