America’s Greenest Colleges And Universities
Forbes just released its 2010 America's Greenest Colleges and Universities list, citing six criteria considered, two of which were created by ecoAmerica: the ACUPCC and Princeton Review College Green Ratings. Read more on who made the list and why in this article by Brian Wingfield.
November 11, 2010
America's Greenest Colleges And Universities
Environmentalism is booming on campuses nationwide. Why? Money.
Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., has pledged to be completely carbon-neutral by 2020. Overlooking Monterey Bay <http://topics.forbes.com/Monterey%20Bay> on the West Coast, the University of California-Santa Cruz saves an estimated 300,000 on water each year by eliminating trays in its dining halls. And in the Deep South, the University of Georgia <http://topics.forbes.com/University%20of%20Georgia> , which subsidizes public transportation on campus, now has nearly 30 student organizations related to sustainability.
These schools all make our annual list of America's Greenest Colleges and Universities, and if they're any indication, environmentalism is booming on campuses nationwide. Among the reasons: money. By investing in energy-efficiency measures, schools can save millions of dollars over the long haul. For example, Harvard University, which also makes our list, last year installed energy-efficient lighting in its parking garages. It's expected to save the school an estimated $400,000 per year on its electric bill, according to the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI).
Each year since 2006 the institute has released a College Sustainability Report Card <http://www.greenreportcard.org> , grading more than 300 institutions (this year) on a range of green efforts, including student involvement, transportation and green building policies, investment priorities, food and recycling programs, and the administration's overall approach to sustainability. This year seven schools received A grades: Brown University, Dickinson, the University of Minnesota, Oberlin College, Pomona College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Yale. Another 45 earned a A-minuses.
"It's really impressive how far a large portion of higher education has come in the last four years," says Mark Orlowski, SEI's founder and executive director. He says in many cases students have been a driving force behind a school's green tide. Conversely, schools are increasingly aware that if they want to attract the best students, they need to show a commitment to sustainability.
In compiling our own list of greenest colleges, we've used the SEI's report card as a starting point, but we've also taken other factors into account. Does the Princeton Review also include a school on its elite Green Honor Roll? Does the Environmental Protection Agency recognize the institution as one of its top collegiate purchasers of green power? Is a school tracking its own efforts at environmental stewardship through a program run by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education? Has it signed on to the Presidents' Climate Commitment to achieve net neutrality in greenhouse gas emissions <http://topics.forbes.com/greenhouse%20gas%20emissions> ? Is environmentalism a theme of its academics?
For example, for the last 39 years Northland College in Ashland, Wis., has given its liberal arts curriculum an environmental twist. Students can enroll in courses of study focused on sustainable agriculture, man's connections with nature, or the Lake Superior watershed (which includes a one-month trip around the watershed itself). Maine's Unity College, which bills itself as "America's Environmental College," offers green-study programs such as Conservation Law Enforcement and Environmental Writing. Both schools make use of renewable power sources to feed their electricity needs.
Schools get high marks for energy efficiency <http://topics.forbes.com/energy%20efficiency> and green building standards. Some institutions, including Yale and the University of Minnesota, have their own co-generation power facilities, which produce both heat and electricity. Oberlin College in Ohio and Boston's Northeastern University are among many schools that require all new buildings meet at least LEED silver standards (a level of green certification established by the U.S. Green Building Council). Oberlin has also committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2025. Two years ago Northeastern replaced nearly 70,000 light bulbs on campus with more energy-efficient options in an effort to save $1.2 million over six years.
Establishing sustainable transportation policies is another way schools their green reputations. According to the SEI, Georgia Tech has 87 electric vehicles in its fleet. One-third of the autos owned by the University of Maryland-College Park run on E-85 (ethanol-based) fuel. An increasing number of schools, including these, offer discounts or incentives for carpooling, campus-wide shuttle service, and bike-friendly and car-sharing programs.
Harvard <http://topics.forbes.com/harvard> has long been known in green circles for its $12 million Green Campus Loan Fund, which provides up-front cash for green construction, maintenance, design and operations. University departments repay the loan through cost savings. The fund has so far invested in more than 150 projects, producing a 27% median return on investment, according to the school's Office of Sustainability.
More and more institutions are following in the footsteps of these colleges and institutions, it seems. Since the SEI began tallying its report card four years ago, the percentage of schools included that have formal committees responsible for sustainability initiatives has risen from 40% to 95%.
Even those schools that aren't yet at the top tier have made considerable progress. Case in point: Mississippi State University <http://topics.forbes.com/Mississippi%20State%20University> , which in 2006 earned a D- on the report card. This year, it received a B, in part because it has reduced its energy usage per square foot by 28% in the last four years, at a savings of about $5 million. According to professor Jeremiah Dumas, the school's sustainability coordinator, the potential cost savings that can be achieved by going green "really set the whole tide in motion."