One of two colleges in Illinois, North Central joins national partners in green challenge

Aug 26, 2016

North Central College has taken another important step in its ongoing efforts to create an environmentally sustainable campus for its faculty, staff, students and the future of the school.

In June, North Central became a participating institution in the Billion Dollar Green Challenge. The Challenge encourages colleges, universities and other nonprofit institutions to invest a combined total of $1 billion in self-managed revolving funds that finance energy efficiency and other sustainability project improvements.

To date, 62 institutions have joined the Challenge and North Central is one of only two in Illinois.

North Central created its own green revolving fund, the Cardinal Sustainability Fund, in 2014, says Sustainability Coordinator Brittany Graham. It provides the financial means for investing in energy efficiency projects to reduce energy consumption on campus and reinvest the money saved in future projects. The fund is a portion of North Central’s unrestricted endowment that has been committed to sustainability projects and meets certain criteria. For example, all projects must have a payback of less than 15 years and involve students and faculty.

Some of the first projects North Central financed through the Cardinal Sustainability Fund included more efficient lighting in Ward Residence Hall and LED lighting in Gregory Arena and the pool at Merner Field House, the Residence Hall/Recreation Center (Res/Rec) arena and Harold and Eva White Activities Center.

During fall 2016, the College will implement the largest project to date from the green revolving fund: a 538.56 kW solar array with a 250 kW energy storage system in Res/Rec. The solar panels will provide 22 percent of the electricity needed for the 201,439-square-foot building with energy storage capacity that can be sold to help support the project. Although this and future projects may have a high initial cost, they provide an economic payback to the College.

College President Troy D. Hammond believes endowment-based “green funds” hold future potential for institutions like North Central and presented his ideas in a TEDx talk titled “Sustainability: Why Universities Can Lead by Example.”

“A college like North Central,” he said, “has the time horizon to experience the full upside and benefit of energy efficiency projects … and the expertise to evaluate these projects, to assess the science behind the technology, to model the energy, to evaluate the financials, to verify the math.”

Being part of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge brings many benefits to the College, says Graham. “It exposes others to our robust sustainability efforts and we gain access to many resources, like research papers and a green revolving investment tracking system (GRITS). This tool will help us track our savings and fund balances, which is helpful to our business office, faculty and students who are involved in all the Challenge projects.”

One of those faculty-student projects begins this fall as part of an undergraduate communication course. Students will partner with Graham and be tasked with creating and presenting a proposal that promotes to the wider public the College’s solar panel project on Res/Rec.   

North Central College has committed $1.8 million of its unrestricted endowment toward sustainability projects. Donations designated to the Cardinal Sustainability Fund are welcome and can be made at