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. This 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 how GRFs are established and managed, discusses 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 carbon 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, Regional Energy Manager 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