The Nation’s Greenest Universities: Top 10 Eco-Friendly Colleges

Duke UniversityAre you concerned about climate change? Colleges and their students seem to think climate change is a vital issue, and their beliefs are reflected in their commitments to sustainability and the environment. The Sierra Club reported that 400 college and university presidents have signed a pledge to make their institutions carbon neutral, while students at almost 600 U.S. and Canadian schools are organizing around clean-energy solutions as part of the Campus Climate Challenge, a two-year-old campaign initiated by youth environmental groups.

Sierra listed their top green colleges and universities, and Grist also got in on the act with their top twenty green colleges and universities. The Princeton Review also compiled lists of their favorite green colleges. We used these lists, other news stories, school programs, student activism and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to compile our own list of the top ten eco-friendly colleges throughout the U.S.

  1. Oberlin CollegeOberlin College: Located in Oberlin, Ohio, this college gets ranked for an award-winning program that includes priority to local food producers, the first car-sharing program in Ohio and an energy policy that derives half of its campus electricity from renewable sources. David Orr, a national figure in the environmental movement, was hired as a professor for the program in the fall of 1990. In 2005, students and faculty created a Web-based system to monitor energy and water usage in dorms, which resulted in vast savings. Additionally, the campus contains the state’s largest solar array, green buildings and the Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, which is heated geothermally. The Lewis Center also houses a model “living machine,” which processes waste water through a plant- and bacteria-based filtration system. Last spring Oberlin held its first ecofriendly commencement, with biodegradable utensils and programs printed on 100 percent recycled paper, and the college now hosts the Office of Environmental Sustainability, managed by Nathan Engstrom. Finally, Oberlin recently received an award from the National Wildlife Federation for replacing all incandescent bulbs with compact florescents and has made the AASHE list for 2007, 2008 and 2009.
  2. College of the AtlanticCollege of the Atlantic: Appealing for students who are “idealists with elbow grease,” COA, located in Bar Harbor, Maine, was the first U.S. college to go carbon neutral in 2007 and it has one major — human ecology, which is broken down into arts and design, environmental sciences and human studies. The campus is committed to green building, historic preservation, land conservation and elimination of toxins. Locally-sourced and organic food is served for all meals, all electricity comes from renewable hydropower and many buildings are heated vis renewable wood pellets. Recycling bins are in every office, compost bins are located in every kitchen and composting toilets are located throughout all new buildings. Not only are the students activists and future eco-leaders, the alumni have taken on environmental issues in Congress. COA made the AASHE list in 2008, but — as with Warren Wilson College (listed below) and other schools built upon sustainability, these awards would be hard to achieve year after year. AASHE looks to growth and future commitments, and COA has already built those policies into their core programs.
  3. University of ColoradoUniversity of Colorado at Boulder: Sometimes a college is missed in all the rush to become environmentally sustainable. Such was the case with this college until this year. The Boulder campus has long been a leader in environmental practices and their Environmental Center is the oldest, largest and most experienced in the nation. Their recycling program began in 1973, their student bus pass program was an example nationwide for transportation issues beginning in 1991, and they funded the nations first campus wind energy purchase in 2000. While the Boulder campus is not listed on the AASHE list, the Colorado Springs campus made the crunch for 2009, as they established their first LEED Gold building in Southern Colorado, applied a $1.3 million Energy Performance Bond toward energy and water efficiency projects and implemented a xeriscape and native landscape program.
  4. Dickinson CollegeDickinson College: Located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Dickinson College might be a surprise for many readers. However, this college deserves kudos for its strong commitment to sustainability. They have won standing with AASHE for four years, with a push to their 2009 standing with the development of the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education (CESE) in 2008. All courses at Dickinson now are defined by sustainability as students focus on significant and complex challenges of sustainability and climate change by empowering them with the knowledge, skills and experiences to make meaningful change. In addition, the campus boasts two LEED Gold buildings, a 2007 grant to install a 70kw solar voltaic array at their Central Energy Plant and a commitment to 100 percent of electricity consumption offset with offset with wind power starting in September 2009. The campus has been operating on 50 percent wind since 2007. This college also supplies its own vegetables to the dining hall, supports composting and supplies a 60-family CSA and local foodbank. Read more — you might be surprised at how this college has come full circle to sustainable practices within the past decade.
  5. Furman UniversityFurman University: Furman, located in Greenville, South Carolina, began to look at their environmental policies in the late 1990s. in 2001, they approved the goal to “Enhance Awareness of Environmental Sustainability,” to appoint a sustainability coordinator and to work with local agencies to develop a green plan. By 2009, this university had incorporated green learning in all classes, along with a mandatory course on “Humans and the Natural Environment.” Additionally, all campus construction and renovation continues to meet and exceed LEED standards, and they are creating solar and geothermal energy systems on campus, thanks to a $1.5 million gift from Duke Energy. When on campus, look for organically grown herbs and vegetables at Furman Farm, along with restoration of the 40-acre Furman Lake at the center of campus. The lake is lined with refurbished dorms that meet LEED standards and that are known as the “Greenbelt Community.” Furman has placed with AASHE for four years, culminating in an award for their 2009 standing.
  6. Evergreen State CollegeThe Evergreen State College: Located in Olympia, Washington, Evergreen’s 1,000-acre campus includes about 800 acres of woods, forest and saltwater beach. Initiatives at the college include a pervasive focus on working toward sustainability and justice by integrating these topics into the graduate and undergraduate curriculum and student academic experiences, leadership in environmental design and organic agriculture, and sound conservation policies, including protection and preservation of natural spaces on campus. The college supports a 13-acre organic farm with compost and vermiculture facilities, and the college buys 100 percent clean power and is trying out electric vehicles. The Seminar II building is Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, and hosts a green roof, in addition to other efficiency features. Students launched the Center for Sustainable Entrepreneurship, and the school has launched a Curriculum for the Bioregion, an effort that focuses on incorporating environmental and sustainability issues into general education college courses throughout the Pacific Northwest. The school has also reduced its landfill waste by more than 97,000 pounds since 2008. Evergreen received AASHE notice in 2007 and in 2008.
  7. Duke UniversityDuke University: Duke, located in Durham, North Carolina, began a sustainability push with a comprehensive environmental policy including academics, operations and community by utilizing a green purchasing policy and determining that all new construction and renovation follow LEED certified standards. They followed with a stormwater policy and campus master plan that included natural areas registry and conservation zones. As of their four-year standing at AASHE to 2009, Duke is committed to incorporating sustainability into every aspect of campus experience, from studies to living. Cars are discouraged, bikes encouraged, Smart Dorm students live in the nation’s first LEED Platinum residence hall outside Warren Wilson College’s iconic EcoDorm. Students are involved in every step of Duke’s green evolution, from collaboration to problem solving through Duke’s Sustainability Office.
  8. Warren Wilson CollegeWarren Wilson College: It’s difficult to make the AASHE standing when a college started green and remained true to its core purposes. Warren Wilson is one such college, with the nation’s first LEED Platinum dorm for existing buildings category, a college farm, a greening seed grant program and a recycling crew that manages a Web site as well. Warren Wilson College, located in Swannanoa, North Carolina, received two AASHE awards, one in 2006 and one in 2008. Their campus is noted for the first LEED Platinum design for a dormitory. While this school is nearly self-supporting and combines sustainability and environmental responsibility in all coursees, they made notable strides in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and overall sustainability since 2006. Additionally, the college’s Building Services Department became 100 percent GreenSeal Certified. Students are involved across the board in all collaboration and problem solving environmental issues at this campus.
  9. Middlebury CollegeMiddlebury College: Located in Middlebury, Vermont, this college is built upon climate activism. This is the school that spawned the national Step It Up protests against global warming is all about energy and where students lobbied hard for the $11 million biomass plant now being built, which will be a big player in making Middlebury College carbon neutral by 2016. Students at this college have worked hard to lower thermostats, exchange lightbulbs, offset carbon dioxide emissions at their ski facility and to build wind turbines that provide power to Middlebury’s recycling facility. The college created the Sustainability Integration Office, which encourages students to research sustainable approaches to life that can be applied to the campus. The Environmental Council, a committee of students, staff, and faculty, advises the president on sustainability policies — environmental purchasing policies for example — and provides incentives through a grants program for students, faculty, and staff to keep sustainability at the forefront. This college also is known as the home of leading environmental author and activist Bill McKibben. Middlebury ranked with AASHE in 2007.
  10. University of New HampshireUniversity of New Hampshire: With the nation’s oldest endowed university sustainability programs in the nation, the UNH Office of Sustainability (OS) was established in 1997 to develop a University-wide education program that links the sustainability to community life. Not only does this college reach out to students, but to the community as well. Their AASHE programs in 2006 were listed in four categories: biodiversity education, climate education, food and society and culture and sustainability. This college won the AASHE award in 2009 for their overall studies, principles and applications, especially when all 2009 commencement speeches and honorary degrees focused on sustainability. Their accomplishments are too broad to list, but a visit to both years’ applications to the AASHE can provide more information.