Introduction and Benefits

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge (The Challenge) encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions to invest a combined total of one billion dollars in self-managed green revolving funds that finance energy efficiency improvements. The Challenge was launched in October of 2011.

Green revolving funds invest in energy efficiency projects to reduce energy consumption and reinvest the money saved in future projects. They are called “revolving funds” because the funds loan money to specific projects, which then repay the loan through an internal account transfer from savings achieved in the institution’s utilities budget. Participating institutions will achieve reductions in operating expenses and greenhouse gas emissions, while creating regenerating funds for future projects.

The Challenge seeks to create a vibrant network of institutions and their staff who are working towards implementing cost-saving sustainability projects on campus. The Sustainable Endowments Institute and our partners and participating institutions, through The Challenge, are developing resources to support efficiency at colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions.

Having a green revolving fund ensures that an institution will always have a source of financing for sustainability projects, thereby building in a system for ongoing savings. For example, if money allocated to further sustainability efforts is spent on a one-time project, there are no additional benefits beyond that one improvement. However, those same funds could instead be used to create a GRF, which then lends the money to the project. This process not only accomplishes the original goal, but also captures the continued fiscal savings and makes them available to lend to new efficiency projects.

Most schools allow their funds to finance any project that will increase efficiency and reduce resource use. These projects have ranged from lighting and water efficiency retrofits to installing composting equipment and converting tractors to run on biofuel. Some funds, in addition to providing loans, also give grants to projects that will not return savings. These grants serve to finance important sustainability projects and to engage the campus community with sustainability issues.