Chapman investments limit sustainability efforts

Chapman claims to strive for sustainability, but remains unranked on the Princeton Review’s “Guide to Green Colleges.” Photo by Karina Cardenas

Chapman is on a lot of lists. But when the Princeton Review makes their annual list of sustainable college campuses, Chapman isn’t there.

The list, “Guide to Green Colleges,” is based on a rating system that Chapman chooses not to participate in.  The rating system would reflect poorly on Chapman because of their investments in fossil fuel, according to Chapman Executive Vice President and Chief of Operations Harold W. Hewitt Jr.

One of the rating program’s requirements is that institutions provide a report of investments held by the endowments. “Over time, the Investment Committee has addressed a number of requests to adopt socially responsible investing strategies of various kinds (i.e., no exposure to fossil fuels, other environmental concerns, munitions, gambling, etc.).,” Hewitt explained by email.  “After a thorough review of these issues, the Investment Committee has adopted the same position as that taken by Harvard University’s endowment in relation to student requests for fossil fuel divestment and summarized here,” Hewitt added.

The Princeton Review creates “Guide to 375 Green Colleges,” ranking schools numerically based on eco-correct campus policies, initiatives, and activities as well as their academic programs offered. Chapman has made environmental efforts, according to the Sustainability Department, but is unwilling to alter their endowment investment portfolio which includes fossil fuels in order to be included on this list. Chapman’s endowment amounts to $352.6 million according to Consolidated Financial Statements from 2017.

The call for colleges to divest in fossil fuels- believed by scientists to cause climate change that leads to rising sea levels, fatal extreme temperatures, and natural disasters- has become increasingly loud on college campuses. At least 16 colleges have committed to fossil fuel divestment, according to the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.

In September, Seattle University announced its board of trustees had voted to accept recommendations that would divest in $230 million endowment of all fossil fuels within five years. “The moral imperative for action is clear,” Seattle University President Stephen V. Sundborg said of the decision.

Chapman’s investment committee met with a group of students that belonged to “Fossil Free Chapman” in 2016 to discuss divestment.

“The Investment Committee concluded that because it is virtually impossible for an endowment invested mostly through commingled funds (approximately 80% of Chapman’s endowment is in funds of funds or other commingled structures) to eliminate exposure to fossil fuels, and based on principles similar to those cited by Harvard in their decision not to divest Chapman’s endowment would not divest from fossil fuels,” Hewitt explained in a follow up email.

Chapman performs annual self audits through the Environmental Science and Policy Capstone Course, but is not associated with The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE); a national assessment used to measure an institution’s sustainability performance. Chapman’s last and only evaluation with AASHE was in 2011. This year Chapman opted out of receiving a score by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), according to Mackenzie Crigger, sustainability coordinator.

It’s not that the program is no longer of interest to Chapman; Chapman is not responsive to the investment criteria that are key to STARS (STARS 2.1 Technical Manual, pps. 287 and following), and is thereby disadvantaged in the rankings,” Hewitt said. Hewitt did not respond to two emails when asked if there were any other reasons for opting out of the program.

Because of Chapman’s investment decisions, the investment committee ruled out divestment in 2016. Photo by Karina Cardenas.

About Chapman’s comparison to Harvard: A Harvard Public Affairs & Communications spokesperson confirmed Harvard currently holds fossil fuels in its portfolio. But this March, a departing member of Harvard’s oversight board called on Harvard to screen out all fossil fuel stocks from its (then) $371 billion endowment portfolio. The Harvard spokesperson did not answer two follow-up emails asking whether Harvard plans to heed the board member’s suggestion.

Participation in the rating program, STARS, is voluntary, said Jordan Schanda, STARS program coordinator. “Institutions choose to register and submit a STARS report, and some choose for their report to be assessed for a rating,” Schanda said.

The score and rating an institution receives is based on self-provided information about academics, engagement, operations, and planning & administration, according to the STARS website.

The top 50 sustainable universities from the 2017 “Guide to Green Colleges” meet the following criteria:

“24% of their total food expenditures go to purchases of local and/or organic food, 68% of the new construction on their campuses is USGBC LEED-certified, 100% offer an undergraduate major or degree that is sustainability-focused, 98% have a sustainability officer and sustainability committee,” according to the Princeton’s Press Release.

Although Chapman did not make the Princeton list, students believe the campus is eco-friendly.

“Chapman is definitely an environmentally friendly school,” said Jordan Eisleben, a sophomore communication studies major. “We have electric car spots and reusable water stations in, like, every corner on campus,” he said.

Chapman hired Energy Conservation and Sustainability Manager, Mackenzie Crigger in 2011. Since then Chapman has been trying to improve its environmental footprint.

“We’ve transitioned more than 50% of our landscape to native or drought tolerant and reduced our irrigation water usage by nearly 70%,” Crigger said. “We have also increased the water efficiency by utilizing low flow devices and increasing water cycles in our cooling towers.”

In addition to reduced water usage on campus, energy-saving measures have also been implemented, according to Crigger.

“We have continual energy efficiency projects. Over the summer we re-lamped all the campus parking structures to be LED as well as Henley, Pralle and Glass residence halls. in 16-17 we actually reduced our gross energy consumption by 2% despite adding students, faculty, staff and structures,” she said.

Crigger said at Chapman they are always striving to improve its environmental footprint through energy, waste management, and water projects.  

But for now, Chapman stands by its investments and position on fossil fuels, according to Hewitt.

Jillie Herrold and Karina Cardenas

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