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RPI's Operations and Investment Policies Scrutinized by Endowment Research Group

A couple of weeks ago Joe Pilaro pointed out an article in The Times Union that we should have brought to your attention earlier. The article has the attention-grabbing headline RPI policies earn C- on green report card and goes on to point out that the school earned "mediocre marks for its environmental and investment policies...." The article doesn't really discuss what the study, called the College Sustainability Report Card published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, was or what the Rensselaer would have to do in order to achieve higher scores.

The Sustainable Endowment Institute focuses on encouraging policies that promote the notion of sustainability as defined by the United Nations World Commission on the Environment and Development. In other words, this is a report card that narrowly focuses on the following issues: "energy efficiency, renewable energy, species extinction, food security, international trade, managing the commons, {and} global poverty".

According to the portion of the report devoted to Rensselaer [ Adobe Acrobat / PDF document ], our worst performance is in "Endowment Transparency" and "Shareholder Engagement", where we received "F" grades. RPI received a "C" in "Investment Priorities" because "The Institute prioritizes investing to maximize profit and has not made any public statements about investigating or investing in renewable energy funds or community development loan funds."

President Jackson and other campus leaders have emphasized that Rensselaer needs to raise additional funds and seek high returns on its investments so that its endowment grows to a comparable level with its peer schools. Profit maximization is a logical investment strategy for situations like this. As for community development loan funds, isn't a commitment to this sort of thing self-evident in RPI's commitment to the redevelopment of Troy?

Rensselaer gets better grades on "Climate Change and Energy", but it deserves more credit for housing the Lighting Research Center than it received in this report. It should also receive more credit in the "Administration" section for recycling 25 tons of surplus electronics per year. Think of how many laptop and desktop computers that represents.

The schools that got the best grades in this report tended to be those with endowments that dwarf RPI's, or liberal arts schools that don't have to deal with the kind of complex environmental issues that come up every day at a technological university. Rensselaer seems to be focusing on cost-effective operational improvements that also help the environment while growing its endowment as fast as it can. In my opinion, it's doing pretty well when you consider the challenges it faces.

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