Full Implementation Guide


Principal Author: Joe Indvik
Contributing Authors: Rob Foley, Mark Orlowski
Published: August 6, 2013

Green Revolving Funds: A Guide to Implementation & Management combines the expertise of energy professionals and college administrators from dozens of institutions to establish best practices for designing and managing green revolving funds (GRFs). The resource is a co-publication of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and was developed with the consulting firm ICF International.

The full version of the guide provides both a broad overview of the green revolving fund model as well as expanded technical guidance on measuring project savings, conducting accounting procedures, and evaluating fund analytics. More case studies and solutions to common obstacles provide a higher level of detail for administrators looking to design and implement a GRF. Additionally, the guide still includes sections on the components of a GRF, the process of designing a fund, and information about joining the Billion Dollar Green Challenge.

Topics covered include:

  • What is a Green Revolving Fund?
  • The Anatomy of a Green Revolving Fund
  • 10 Steps to establishing a Successful Green Revolving Fund
  • Measurement and Verification of Project Savings
  • Fund Analytics
  • Common Obstacles to Implementation
  • Joining The Challenge



Greening the Bottom Line 2012

Principal Author: Emily Flynn
Contributing Authors: Mark Orlowski, Dano Weisbord
Published: October 30, 2012

Description: Greening the Bottom Line 2012 continues research into the rapid growth of green revolving funds (GRFs), a sustainability financing mechanism that colleges, universities, and nonprofits have increasingly adopted as a means to fund sustainability initiatives inside their buildings and operations. These initiatives typically reduce energy and resource use which result in decreased operating costs and an improved environmental impact. Though many of these GRFs are young- there have been 36 new funds created since 2010- their portfolios have already begun to post impressive returns, with a median reported return on investment of 28 percent.

Implementing efficiency measures can benefit not only the institution itself, but also the students, faculty, staff, and community members that call the campus their home. Greening the Bottom Line 2012 found that a growing number of schools are seeking to implement efficiency projects by reaching into the campus community for inspiration, research, and volunteers. Greening the Bottom Line 2012 also reports on the project- and fund-specific energy savings, cost savings, and fund structures of GRFs across North America.

Other trends featured in the 2012 report include:

  • A 60% increase in the number of GRFs in operation between 2010 and 2012;
  • More than $111 million in capital collectively committed among established GRFs;
  • Over 900 energy efficiency projects initiated with the support of GRF funding;
  • GRFs launched in 31 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces;
  • Reported return on investment between 20 percent (Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and 57 percent (Boston University).

Publication Partners: American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Center for Green Schools at U.S. Green Building Council, Clean Air-Cool Planet, Clinton Climate Initiative, Focus the Nation, National Wildlife Federation Campus Ecology Program, New England Board of Higher Education, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Rocky Mountain Institute, Second Nature, UNCF Building Green Initiative, U.S. EPA’s Green Power Partnership, and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.

Funded By: David Rockefeller Fund, John Merck Fund, Kresge Foundation, Merck Family Fund, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Wallace Global Fund.

Greening the Bottom Line 2023

The Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) is releasing a new report today—Greening the Bottom Line: Advancing Institutional Sustainability Goals with Green Revolving Funds (GRFs). GRFs are an internal financing tool dedicated to investing in projects that reduce an institution’s carbon emissions, energy consumption, water use and/or waste production, and revolving the ensuing utility cost savings to fund future projects.

Universities, K-12 schools, and local/state governments are all using the innovative GRF model to help decarbonize their campuses and communities. The report tracks the latest trends and highlights best practices to enable more institutions and communities to learn about and adopt this funding model. The result of surveying 66 institutions, this report examines trends in how GRFs are established and managed, highlights the benefits they provide, and addresses perceived barriers to creating one.

Key findings include: 

  • Cumulative project investment provided by these GRFs is over $1.3 billion.

  • Projects financed by the GRFs in this survey tend to achieve a 17 percent return on investment (ROI) and have a payback period of five years.

  • Nearly 2,200 projects that reduce resource consumption have been financed by the GRFs in the survey.

  • Asked whether their GRF had changed how much they are able to get done, over 90 percent of respondents said that having a GRF allows their institution to finance more sustainability projects.

Since 2010, SEI has been developing resources to support institutions that are considering or in the process of establishing a GRF, including implementation guides, case studies, and trend reports like the current one.

“Revolving funds present an exciting win-win-win opportunity to lower operating costs, reduce resource use, and improve the quality of an institution’s facilities all at the same time. They are a very flexible mechanism used by very small organizations to large state governments,” said Mark Orlowski, Founder and Executive Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

Two institutions shared how GRFs assist in meeting climate neutrality goals:

“Establishing a revolving energy fund at the University of Michigan has strengthened our energy conservation work across all university facilities. This is an important, early component of our pursuit of achieving carbon neutrality,” said Kevin Morgan, Manager, Energy Management, Office of Campus Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

Trevor Ledbetter, Director of the University of Arizona Office of Sustainability, said, “Our Utility Modification Revolving Fund has provided a valuable case study of how investing in energy efficiency can be leveraged to provide ongoing financial resources for improvements that support our climate neutrality goals. Based upon the success we have seen in only two years, we are now actively investigating how additional seed funding sources can grow our fund to further accelerate our efforts.”

The report is available for free online at

Previously: Greening the Bottom Line 2011

Principal Author: Dano Weisbord
Contributing Authors: Julian Dautremont-Smith, Mark Orlowski
Published: February 2011

Description: Greening the Bottom Line 2011, published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) with more than a dozen partner organizations, brings to light current trends based on the first survey ever conducted about green revolving funds (GRFs) in higher education. Green revolving funds invest in enhancing energy efficiency and decreasing resource use, thereby reducing operating expenses and greenhouse gas emissions. The cost savings boost the bottom line and replenish the GRF for investment in the next round of green upgrades.

To better understand the emerging trend toward the creation of more GRFs, SEI conducted a survey in 2010 of colleges and universities using green revolving funds. Greening the Bottom Line 2011 examines and evaluates the results of this survey of 52 institutions.

Investment Primer


Principal Author: Dano Weisbord
Contributing Author: Mark Orlowski
Published: May 8, 2012

The Investment Primer is designed for senior financial officers, boards of trustees’ investment committees, and key decision makers who wish to learn more about developing a green revolving fund that matches their institution’s resources, goals and programs. This document answers critical financial questions most often raised when considering development of a green revolving fund and is divided into the following sections:

  • What is a Green Revolving Fund?
  • Financial and Administrative Benefits of a Green Revolving Fund
  • Finding Initial Capital
  • Structuring a Green Revolving Fund
  • Managing a Green Revolving Fund
  • Operational Risks

Download the 21-page Investment Primer (PDF)


Case Studies


White Papers


An Opportunity to Lead Sustainably: The Benefits and Considerations of Student-Led Green Revolving Fund Projects

In recent years, energy- and resource-reduction projects have compelled student leaders to create sustainability projects on campuses across the country. Students can be involved in many levels of project management, including identification, approval, and management. This paper examines the role that students play in green revolving funds. After speaking with numerous students on a variety of campuses, it is clear that they are more likely to be engaged in the GRF when it allows them to engage with campus allies and raise awareness of environmental issues. Active support from faculty, staff, and other campus organizations can help students pursue goals both strategically and collaboratively. Three case studies—St. John’s University (MN), Whitman College (WA), and the University of Montana at Missoula— illustrate a number of effective uses of the green revolving fund model and successful strategies employed by these students.

Sustainable Campus Dining: How Campuses are Targeting Sustainability and Engagement through Dining Services Initiatives

Sustainable food and dining is a popular topic on college and university campuses. Popular areas of focus include equipment upgrades in the kitchen, installation of campus or community gardens, and streamlining existing campus recycling operations, such as by converting campus vehicles to run on used vegetable oil from the dining hall. Research shows that these types of projects are ideal funding candidates inside the green revolving fund model as they coincide with the fund’s common goals of reducing resource use and engaging the community. Though these projects have remained largely untapped by financing through green revolving funds, this white paper examines both the successes and obstacles of financing food service and education programs through the green revolving fund model on eight campuses in the United States.

How Colleges and Universities Can Overcome Resource-Related Barriers in Establishing a Green Revolving Fund: An Examination of 16 schools and their GRFs

Institutions with small endowments of $100 million or less have overcome resource-related barriers to creating green revolving funds (GRFs). By establishing a GRF, these schools have added value to their campus and gained a competitive advantage in the sustainability realm. An examination of 16 schools with small endowments revealed five recommendations for schools establishing a GRF: (1) shape your GRF to appeal to institutional strengths; (2) take advantage of available resources in creating and implementing your GRF; (3) specify project restrictions and guidelines for initiatives funded through the GRF; (4) create a GRF that supports your institution’s financial structure; and (5) align your GRF with institutional goals and engage stakeholders. Two schools in particular, Thompson Rivers University (British Columbia, Canada) and Grand Valley State University (Michigan) provide examples as two case studies on how they were able to work around limited resources to implement a successful GRF.






Sample Green Revolving Fund Documents


These documents, freely available online, highlight a broad range of ways for the green revolving fund to conduct and track its operations, from project applications to fund proposals, charter, and bylaws. They represent just a sample of the many documents that schools use to organize and administer their funds. More documents are available for Billion Dollar Green Challenge participants. If you’re not part of The Challenge, visit Join The Challenge for information on how you can sign up your school.

British Columbia Institute of Technology, Revolving Fund for Sustainability Initiatives Guidelines — Guidelines and operating procedures for BCIT’s fund, includes sections related to the fund’s history, administration, project approval process, and statement of use and loan fund principles.

Carleton College, Sustainability Revolving Fund Charter — Charter document for Carleton’s GRF, includes sections related to the fund’s purpose, goals, financing, and governance.

Harvard University, Green Loan Fund Full Cost Loan project proposal — Shows fields necessary to place a request for funding to Harvard’s Green Loan Fund, includes sections on the project’s administration, description, and funding and accounting procedures.

Miami University Ohio, Revolving Green Fund Packet — Packet of information related to Miami’s fund, including the fund’s charter and a project application cover sheet. The charter section includes information on the fund’s goals, management and procedures, and criteria for project assessment.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Revolving Loan Fund Agreement — Similar to a charter, this document outlines the financial and administrative agreements which support the University’s revolving loan fund, between the Office of the Chancellor, Student Sustainability Committee, the Office of the President, and Facilities & Services.