Energy Efficiency: A way for colleges to save and make money?

The Obama administration – and every parent with a child in college – is concerned about the ever-escalating cost of higher education. And for good reason. Tuition, room and board rose 37 percent for undergraduates at public colleges and 25 percent at private colleges (adjusted for inflation) from 2000 to 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.


Colleges are enormous energy users. National Grid says that in the Northeast, a US higher education hub, a typical 50,000-square foot college building uses more than $200,000 of energy annually. So one way for colleges to reduce costs is through greater energy efficiency, especially if it is financed adeptly.


The Green Revolving Fund offers an interesting model. Basically, the college sets aside money in a fund to make energy efficiency improvements, and then uses the money saved on energy bills to replenish the fund and make more improvements to further drive down energy bills.


About 50 colleges have established GRFs, and they are achieving a median annual return on investment of 30 percent, according to Mark Orlowski, executive director of Sustainable Endowments Institute, who presented a recent webinar on the funds through the Yale Center for Business and the Environment.


A GRF removes energy efficiency from competition for college resources. Energy improvements cease to be a burden on the operating budgets, and conversation about efficiency transforms into one about investment and re-investment. Colleges find seed money for GRFs from a variety of sources, including reserve funds, alumni donations, endowments and utilities.


The Sustainable Endowments Institute and several partners have launched a challenge to raise college GRF funds to a cumulative $1 billion, up from the current $65 million. Existing funds vary in size from $5,000 at the College of Wooster in Ohio to $25.45 million at Standard University. The average fund is $1.4 million, according to SEI.  The funds can be found in 25 states, and at colleges as big as University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with 42,000 students and as small as Kalamazoo College with an enrollment of 1,381. Students, themselves, started the programs at 17 of the schools.


A recent blog by Joe Indvik posted by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education offers several good reasons for colleges to pursue GRFs over other ways to invest in efficiency. For example, he points to the “sizzle” factor.  “A GRF is a unified, purposeful investment vehicle that is easy to market and generates a more positive public image than traditional investments. It demonstrates concrete commitment to sustainability in a way that one-time investments cannot,” he says.


This is not a new concept. Harvard has had a GRF for  more than a decade. But the idea has taken off in recent years, with about three quarters of GRFs formed since 2008.  Energy efficiency companies would be wise to track their creation, since they clearly open the door to new business opportunities. More details can be found at and


Elisa Wood is a long-time energy writer. See more of her work at

Views: 70


You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy,) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.  Home Energy Pros is sponsored by the Better Buildings Residential Network.

Latest Activity

Profile IconTodd Maxwell, Bob Lytle, Edward Burns and 3 more joined Home Energy Pros
3 hours ago
David Byrnes's blog post was featured

Top 6 things to watch out for when building a new home and how builders are still cutting corners with energy efficiency

Even though it seems like all the new home builders are touting how energy efficient their homes…See More
4 hours ago
Diane Chojnowski's discussion was featured

Incentives & financing options for home energy upgrades

DOE's has a useful database of incentives and financing options for home energy…See More
4 hours ago
Tom White's video was featured

Coping with Comfort Complaints: Top Causes, Investigation Methods, and Solutions

This one-hour webinar features Arlan Burdick and Andrew Poerschke talking about comfort complaints in well-built homes.
7 hours ago
Eric Kjelshus commented on Chris Laumer-Giddens's blog post Sparky Doubled the Air Leakage in this Home!
"What if after the building is sealed and tested.   The trades man would have to reseal all…"
19 hours ago
Colin Genge posted events
21 hours ago
David Downard replied to David Downard's discussion Blower Door for Sale in the group Energy Auditing Equipment for Sale, Trade or to Purchase
"Price is $1700. "
22 hours ago
David Downard added a discussion to the group Energy Auditing Equipment for Sale, Trade or to Purchase

Blower Door for Sale

MINNEAPOLIS BLOWER DOOR Complete system with DG700 Like new, its been used about 6…See More
22 hours ago

© 2015   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service