Economic incentives for sustainable resource consumption at a large university – Past performance and future considerations

Jonathan I. Levy (Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA, and)
Kumkum M. Dilwali (Environmental Health and Engineering, Newton, MA, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Publication date: 1 December 2000


Colleges and universities that are interested in reducing their environmental impacts are faced with the difficulties of providing incentives for sustainable behavior and attempting to quantify the gains that policies would provide. In this paper, we use a case study to demonstrate the benefits as well as the difficulties encountered with one type of incentive program, a revolving loan fund. During the five‐year tenure of the case study fund, the program yielded a 34 percent return on conservation investments, with associated decreases in resource usage, ambient air emissions, and water consumption. Using a past damage function study, we estimate that the reduced emissions result in over US$100,000 of avoided environmental externalities per year. Although the economic returns and environmental benefits were significant, participation declined rapidly after the initial rollout of the program and relatively non‐technical conservation measures were generally the focus of projects. Through surveys of both participating and non‐participating facility directors, we determined that lack of knowledge of effective conservation measures and limitations in staff availability were the key barriers preventing more extensive participation. Increased flow of information, through such actions as frequent facility director correspondence and independent energy audits of facilities, would be likely to encourage sustainable resource consumption in future applications of revolving loan funds and other campus greening efforts.



Levy, J. and Dilwali, K. (2000), "Economic incentives for sustainable resource consumption at a large university – Past performance and future considerations", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 1 No. 3, pp. 252-266.

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Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

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