What Are America's Greenest Colleges Doing Right?

May 10, 2011

The Princeton Review's 2011 'Guide to 311 Green Colleges' is out. Schools that top the list demonstrated excellence in both sustainable campus practices, such as LEED-certified building and waste diversion, and environmentally-oriented academics.

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By Megan Driscoll


The Green Roll

For many years, The Princeton Review has surveyed college applicants and their parents to find out about their 'college hopes and worries.' Recently, the organization noticed that more and more respondents are placing a high premium on schools that demonstrate a commitment to environmental sustainability.

In response, The Princeton Review developed the 'green rating.' Drawing on institutional data and surveys of college administrators, they assigned a green score on a 60-99 point scale to over 700 colleges and universities across the country. The top 311 institutions are included in the Guide to Green Colleges publication (co-produced with the U.S. Green Building Council), and the following 18 institutions made the 'honor roll' for achieving a perfect score of 99:

  • Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ
  • The College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME
  • The Evergreen State University in Olympia, WA
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA
  • Harvard College in Cambridge, MA
  • Northeastern University in Boston, MA
  • Northland College in Ashland, WI
  • The State University of New York (SUNY) - Binghamton University
  • Unity College in Unity, ME
  • The University of California, Berkeley
  • The University of California, Santa Barbara
  • The University of California, Santa Cruz
  • The University of Georgia in Athens, GA
  • The University of Maine in Orono, ME
  • The University of Maryland - College Park
  • Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV
  • Yale University in New Haven, CT

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It's Not Easy to Be Green

So what makes a school greener than Kermit the Frog? The Princeton Review based their ratings on a 10-point survey that covers the following topics:

  • Expenditures on environmentally sustainable food.
  • Programs that encourage alternatives to single-passenger car use for students, such as carpooling or bus passes.
  • The presence of a formal committee devoted to advancing sustainable practices that includes students.
  • LEED building certification requirements, with a minimum rating of LEED Silver.
  • The institutional waste diversion rate.
  • The existence of an environmental studies major, minor or concentration.
  • The existence of an 'environmental literacy' requirement for students.
  • A climate action plan that aims for an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as well as a publicly available greenhouse gas emissions survey.
  • The percentage of the school's energy consumption that comes from renewable sources.
  • The employment of a full time or full time equivalent sustainability officer.

Schools that made the honor roll performed well on every one of the above measures.

green university sustainable college

Taken as a whole, the survey is looking for schools that demonstrate a two-part commitment to 'green-ness.' First, schools should place a strong emphasis on pursuing environmentally sustainable practices on their own campuses. This is particularly important for colleges and universities, which often function as models for other large groups or institutions. They also tend to be gathering places for thousands - and even tens of thousands - of people. All those people have the potential to have a very high environmental impact, and reducing the impact can therefore make a pretty significant difference.

However, the green rating goes beyond LEED certification and reducing carbon footprints. Schools that perform well are making an impact beyond their own borders by instilling environmentally-friendly values in their students, who will hopefully put those values into practice throughout their lives.

One obvious way the greenest schools achieve this goal is through academics. In addition to offering an environmental studies major, many schools also require environmental literacy to be incorporated into the curriculum across disciplines. But the 'green-ducation' extends outside of the classroom too. By encouraging students to cut down on waste, use renewable energy and develop good transportation habits, schools are teaching them how to live in a more sustainable fashion day by day. Many institutions are also offering students the opportunity to become more invested in their schools' environmental goals by participating in formal sustainability committees.

sustainable environmental green college university princeton

Go Green!

Wondering how you can get your school on this list? Talk to your administration about any sustainability efforts that are currently underway and ask how students can get involved. If you have the time, consider forming a student-led environmental committee that can scrutinize your college's practices and come up with greener solutions.

Of course, institutional change is slow, so The Princeton Review has a few suggestions for how students can go green on their own:

Use less energy.

Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs). Use a laptop instead of a desktop computer. Buy electronics and appliances with the energy star label.

Reduce waste.

Repair leaky faucets. Use reusable items like cloth bags instead of plastic ones, handkerchiefs instead of tissues, cloth towels instead of paper towels or plastic food containers instead of foil wrap. Buy items in recycled packaging. Compost. Donate unwanted furniture and clothing instead of throwing it away.

Be efficient.

Form a carpool to and from school. Bicycle or take the bus whenever possible. Rearrange your dorm room or apartment to maximize natural light and reduce the need for artificial light. Plug as many appliances as possible into a single power strip, then turn 'em all off at once.

Universities aren't the only postsecondary institutions getting on the green bandwagon. Many community colleges have started promoting green vocational programs.

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