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Industry News
Billion Dollar Green Challenge Launches
November 27, 2011

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge invites colleges, universities, and other nonprofits to invest a total of $1 billion in self-managed green revolving funds that finance energy-efficiency upgrades. Harvard, Stanford, Arizona State, and other leading universities have already committed $65 million to new energy-efficiency financing initiatives.

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 cash-strapped college and university campuses.

In revolving funds, an initial sum of money is set aside to finance sustainability projects that have a quantifiable monetary savings. A portion of these returns (lowered operating costs) is returned into the fund until the project is “paid back.” The money is then reinvested in additional energy-conservation measures, theoretically funding sustainability projects in perpetuity. Endowment investments, operating funds, and alumni donations have all been used to establish green revolving funds at institutions across the country.

“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 15 partners (see the list below).

“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 in that 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” said Paul Rowland, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

In advance of the launch, 32 institutions had already 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 ASU, other Founding Circle institutions include Caltech, Dartmouth, George Washington, Middlebury, the University of British Columbia, and Weber State University.

Several Founding Circle schools have already established funds and are enthusiastic about the benefits. Harvard’s Office for Sustainability Director Heather Henriksen said, “The Green Loan Fund has generated high returns on investment, while improving Harvard’s environmental impact and our bottom line.”

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.

At Stanford, Office of Sustainability Associate Director Fahmida Ahmed said, “Our fund has already financed over 200 small and large efficiency projects on campus, with an average simple payback period of just 4 years.”

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, US Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership, and the Wallace Global Fund.

Fifteen partner organizations have played a pivotal role in developing and launching the program: American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Clean Air-Cool Planet, Clinton Climate Initiative, Earth Day Network, National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology, Net Impact, National Association of Environmental Law Societies, New England Board of Higher Education, Rocky Mountain Institute, Second Nature, United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Building Green Initiative, US Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership, and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.

Visit www.GreenBillion.org for more information.

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