Skip to main content

Colleges Become Greener Thanks to Savvy Students

Smart students know they need environmental literacy to be prepared for the green economy, and more colleges are responding, reports The Princeton Review.

It is only the second year the publication has compiled its "Green Colleges" rating, but results show more institutions are participating in the survey -- and more students are concerned about a college's environmental policies and practices.

The Princeton Review's system rated 697 institutions on a scale of 60 to 99, with score of 99 earning a place on the Green Honor Roll (see list below). The criteria analyzed an institution's policies, practices and course availability in relation to environmental sustainability.

Developed with ecoAmerica, an environmental nonprofit "dedicated to strategic marketing projects to engage mainstream Americans on the benefits of environmental progress," said Rafael Reyes, the program director.

Specifically, the survey analyzed quality of life issues, such as the availability of local and organic food; preparation for employment and citizenship through environmental literacy courses; and overall commitment to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through LEED certified buildings or participation in The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). 

And even with the poor economy, schools are continuing to increase their sustainability efforts, said David Soto, The Princeton Review's director of college rankings, in a telephone interview. 

While paying for college is still the top worry for students and parents, environmental concerns were right behind that, Soto said. More than 1 in 4 students and nearly 1 in 5 parents said an institution's commitment to the environment would "very much" impact their choice of a college or university. "They know they need these skills (such as environmental literacy) to get a job in the green economy," he said.

Greenest of Green Campuses

Some institutions, such as Middlebury College in Vermont and the University of California, Berkeley, were pretty much expected to make the honor roll -- and they did. (Full disclosure: This reporter is a recent Cal graduate). But a couple of institutions stand out.

For example, at the Arizona State University, Tempe campus, President Michael Crow co-chairs the ACPUCC and the university boasts the largest array of solar panels on a college campus in the country. Colorado College in Colorado Springs, which is smaller in size and student population,  has the largest solar photovoltaic array in the area.

There is no one-size-fits-all university. Soto emphasized the goal of his publication is to help students find the college that is "right fit" for an individual. For those who are concerned about the environment, the honor roll schools also have local and organic food options and transportation alternatives, offer an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability, and strive to reduce their carbon footprint.

Much of the environmental change on the campuses is driven by students, Soto said.

"Students are savvy shoppers," he said, "they know what they want and are more versed in these subjects than their parents" so competitive colleges are responsive to their concerns.

In addition, more students are realizing that living the "green life" doesn't mean they have to give up creature comforts. And progressive campus policies are also engaging the "environmental agnostics" with tasty, local food, then helping these students make the connection to larger issues through environmental literacy courses, Soto said. Environmental courses are even being taught in the English and drama departments, in addition to science and engineering schools, he said.

A Growing Trend

This year's Review saw a 30 percent increase in colleges participating in the green rankings, which could be a signal that more are simply jumping on the green bandwagon. But the competition to perform well among their peers on such ranking systems drives higher education to take more challenging things -- like reducing GHG emissions -- seriously, Soto said.

In addition, Reyes of ecoAmerica said there has been "a dramatic sea change since the start of the ACUPCC; with 640 participating institutions, [the climate commitment] has been a major factor in catalyzing efforts among universities to go green, even among those who are not signatories."

"This generation, the millennials, if you will, are very in tuned to what is going on," said Soto. For example, the renewable energy sector is expected to grow four fold in the next decade and young people know this, he said.

"They want to be employed in a position that is not only fulfilling in monetary way, but also from a social standpoint," he said, noting that social responsibility is growing in popularity among business schools.

The full rankings show a diversity of institutions, from the well-funded Ivy Leagues to the small, private colleges, Soto said. "You don’t have to have a huge endowment to do well. If you budget wisely and are responsive to what students want, you’ll perform well."

The Green Honor Roll (listed alphabetically)

Arizona State University at the Tempe campus
Bates College (Lewiston ME)
Binghamton University (State Univ. of New York at Binghamton)
College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor ME)
Colorado College (Colorado Springs CO)
Dickinson College (Carlisle PA)
Evergreen State College (Olympia WA)
Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta)
Harvard College (Cambridge MA)
Middlebury College (Middlebury VT)
Northeastern University (Boston MA)
University of California - Berkeley
University of New Hampshire (Durham)
University of Washington (Seattle)
Yale University (New Haven CT)

More on this topic