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Top marks for green

October 7, 2009

PLU receives top marks for sustainability

Pacific Lutheran University has garnered a prestigious ranking this week, as the Sustainable Endowments Institute released its College Sustainability Report Card for 2010. Overall, the university was graded an A-, with As granted to many areas such as climate change, energy use, student involvement and food and recycling.(Find the complete report HERE).

PLU was one of only 26 colleges or universities to receive an overall A- mark, the highest grade rewarded this year by the institute.

Top marks also went to universities such as Arizona State (A-), University of Washington (A-), Stanford (A-), Yale (A1), and Harvard (A-). Luther College also earned an overall A-, the only other ELCA college to receive top honors this year. PLU also ranked an overall college leader in sustainability practices and a campus sustainability leader.

The annual publication and grading provides school profiles and grades along with insights in how universities compare with each other.  The report also looked at whether the current financial climate pushed the 332 colleges that responded to cut their sustainability efforts or programs. Overall, that wasn’t the case, the study concluded.

“Surprising the skeptics, most schools we surveyed did not let financial reversals undermine their green commitments,” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Massachusetts-based institute. “New financial realities encourages saving money by adopting environmentally friendly innovations.”

Sheri Tonn, PLU’s vice president for finance and operations, said she was not surprised by PLU’s high ranking and very pleased with the outcome.

“We are very, very pleased to attain this mark, and want to keep the caliber of sustainability to a high level on campus,” she said.

She credited the work of the PLU community for the high rating, as well as an initial sustainability water grant by the Russell Family Foundation in 2001.

Christine Cooley, PLU’s newly-hired sustainability coordinator, said that PLU is building a national reputation for green practices, which is one of the reasons she came to work here this year.

“PLU is truly a leader in the Northwest, ” she said. “I think that we should always be aware that the sustainability efforts we are making for ourselves don’t only impact us, but they give an example open to any other school in the nation.  We have a ripple effect to be really proud of.  I am ecstatic with these results.”

“Colleges are now taking pride in greener campuses and sustainability-savvy investments – increasingly important concerns for parents choosing a school,” Orlowski said.

Pacific Lutheran University’s report card:


A: The report gave high marks to the university’s sustainability committee for implementing projects to fulfill the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. The committee also awarded grants to three sustainability fellows for on-campus projects. The university also has an Energy Star procurement policy.

Climate Change and Energy

A: The report noted that PLU has installed geothermal heating and cooling and has begun the LEED commissioning of all mechanical systems in new and renovated buildings. Wind power (purchased) provides 45 percent of  PLU’s electric use.

Food and Recycling

A: Dining services purchases from a local dairy and all milk is hormone and antibiotic free. Herbs are from PLU’s garden, chickens are free range and the university has an aggressive composting program. The university implemented the Can the Can program in 2006, and the university has a 71 percent diversion rate of waste.

Student Involvement

A: PLU has a zero-waste picnic during new student orientation. The university provides a full-time sustainability internship. A student group (GREAN) has also sold more than 1,000 reusable bottles.


A: One quarter of the university fleet is made up of alternative fuel vehicles, and the university subsidizes mass transportation. A bike co-op started in 2008.

In the areas of endowment transparency, green buildings and investment priorities, the university rated a B. Tonn said if the Neeb Center had received its gold LEED rating by the time the study was completed, PLU most likely would have received an A in green buildings as well.

Content Development Director Barbara Clements compiled this report. Reach her for comments or ideas at 253-535-7427 or