Harvard, Stanford, and other leading universities are the first to commit $65 million to to finance serious upgrades in energy efficiency.
The $1 Billion Green Challenge, launched this week, challenges universities and other nonprofits to invest that amount in a revolving fund that finances energy efficiency upgrades on campuses.
The Challenge is inspired by the exceptional performance of existing green revolving funds, which have a median annual return on investment of 32%, as documented by Greening The Bottom Line, a report published 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," says Mark Orlowski, executive director of Sustainable Endowments.
Besides reducing energy consumption the upgrades save significants amounts of money - those savings are re-invested in the fund to finance further upgrades.
32 universities have announced they'll commit funds to the Green Challenge. In addition to Harvard and Stanford, Arizona State, Caltech, Dartmouth, George Washington, Middlebury, and others have signed on.
For the past five years, Sustainable Endowments has ranked North American colleges and universities on their sustainability practices, including what their endowments invest in.
57% of endowments that got a "A" for investment priorities in the College Sustainability Report Card were cited for their investments in renewable energy funds.
"Our fund has already financed over 200 small and large efficiency projects on campus, with an average simple payback period of just four years," says Fahmida Ahmed, Associate Director of Stanford University's Office of Sustainability.
The Billion Dollar Green Challenge was launched at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in Pittsburgh. With more than 2,500 participants, the conference is the largest gathering on higher education sustainability.
It's 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.