Top 20 Colleges in The U.S That Have Taken The Green Initiative Road

Environmental awareness is gaining momentum not only in Climate Change Conferences but also in colleges and universities. The main purpose behind this is to prepare a knowledgeable generation. There is serious commitment towards making the campus, its life, and its residents healthier and more sustainable. Below is a list of 20 colleges that take their responsibility to the environment seriously and are contributing positively towards the sustainability cause by taking innovative initiatives and actively investing in a future for everyone.

Cornell University

Out of a total of 861 colleges in the 2015 Green Honor Roll, Cornell is one of the 24 colleges that obtained the highest possible scoring of 99 in the Princeton Review’s annual environmental ratings. With more than 400 courses and twenty eight majors to choose from, Cornell offers its students a platform for research, scholarship and practical application of knowledge to deal with one of the world’s most pressing problems: Achieving a sustainable tomorrow.

There are over forty green clubs at Cornell to cater to every aspect of sustainability. 64% of the campus waste is recycled or composted, including 550 tons of food from the campus dining halls.

The Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, established in 2008, ‘unites the three pillars of sustainability – energy, the environment, and economic development—in one centre’. The centre provides grants for research and advances the local and national conversation on sustainability through activities that involve government agencies, NGO’s, foundations and others.

Cornell plans to be carbon neutral by 2050 and since 2008; it has already achieved 32% of this goal. With an investment of $46 million into this program, various efforts have been made to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. For instance, transportation services provide incentives to students to use van pools, public transportation and the student run bike share program.

Iowa State University

Out of a possible platinum, gold, silver or bronze certification provided by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), Iowa State University completed its first STARS certification in 2013 and received gold. In addition to this, the university’s College Sustainability Report Card shows a current grade ‘B’, with past grades being a B- in 2010 and a C in 2009 and 2008. This grade is a result of combining information from 43 different indicators in nine major sustainability categories.

Live Green!’ is the university’s campus-wide sustainability initiative, dealing with all aspects of making the campus green and healthy. Under this initiative, the university has formed a committee headed by a Director of Sustainability and run by a thirteen member Advisory Committee on Energy Conservation and Global Climate Change.

ISU is highly committed to its sustainability program, highlighted by the fact that it requires all new constructions or major renovations on campus achieve LEED Gold. Among the existing architecture, the university’s College of Design addition and the State Gym recreational facility have both achieved LEED Platinum. Food waste is reduced by 50% by making the residential dining centers tray-less. And 10% of the university’s electrical energy is procured from wind.

Furthermore, if you are interested in studying green, ISU has the option for that as well, offering more than 800 sustainability courses in more than forty departments.

Chatham University

Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA is the alma mater of environmental icon, Rachel Carson, and is recognized as a leader in the field of sustainability, having been named to Sierra magazine’s list of top 20 “cool schools” and mentioned in Forbes as one of the places “contributing to Pittsburgh’s transformation into a destination for green living.

In 2014, Chatham opened its Eden Hall Campus, the world’s first academic community built from the ground up for the study and practice of sustainability. The 388-acre campus meets the highest levels of sustainability design, including net zero energy; zero carbon emissions; and onsite management of all storm and waste water. In addition to fields, orchard, gardens and greenhouses for an extensive sustainable agriculture program, it features a field lab, amphitheater, café, and classroom buildings. Student residence halls, a dining hall and kitchen, and flexible meeting spaces will open in August 2015.

Eden Hall is home to Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability, where students can pursue Bachelor and Master degrees in Sustainability, a Masters in Food Studies, and a dual-degree Master of Sustainability and Master of Business Administration. The curriculum prepares students through building professional skills and expertise to address the complex real world problems and challenges facing cities, organizations, businesses and the economy with the transition to a more sustainable future.

University of Washington

Surrounded by one of the greatest forests in the US, University of Washington takes its sustainability seriously. The Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability office, established in 2008, supports the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC) and the Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF) in order to promote a greener lifestyle all across campus.

The university facilitates several programs and projects to meet its sustainability standards. These include Paper Reduction, Green Certifications, Green Teams, PC Power Management etc. The university currently has twenty eight LEED certified buildings, with thirteen more underway. Recycling and composting are highly encouraged at UW. A comprehensive waste reduction program is designed to educate and provide infrastructure and services to minimize waste and maximize reuse. With initiatives such as this, UW manages to recycle 58% of its total waste. Energy costs are reduced by the use of solar panels and cutting out inefficient practices. 50 million gallons of water is saved annually and over the past ten years, UW has managed to save up to $50 million through energy conservation efforts. A fleet of 400 alternate-fuel vehicles are available to the campus community. Students are at the heart and centre of the sustainability programs at UW. They are encouraged to participate in projects, events and clubs designed to contribute towards a positive global change.

California State University, Chico

At California State University, Chico, sustainability is a core value that is encouraged among students, faculty and all campus activities. The university ranked #39 on Sierra Club’s Cool Schools of 2014. In May of 2014, CSU was one of the six academic institutions selected to receive the prestigious Second Nature’s fifth annual Climate Leadership Award. CSU, Chico’s electricity competition was ranked among the Top 10 in Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN). CCN is the largest electricity and water reduction competition for colleges and universities in the world

Fuel costs are cut substantially since 85% of the campus population lives within a one mile radius. Alternate transportation is offered to the campus community. Bike transport is also encouraged, with Chico now recognized as a Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists.

CSU, Chico has several projects and programs that promote the green lifestyle. The Associated Students (AS) Sustainability Program offers internships, paid staff positions and volunteering opportunities. The AS Recycling Program provides well integrated and comprehensive recycling services to the campus community. In one academic year, this program recycled over 187,000 lbs of paper, which is equivalent of 1,594 trees. Over 5,000 lbs of aluminum cans were recycled which is the same as energy spent on watching TV 24 hours a day for 43.5 years. CSU, Chico is big on recycling and reusing, a habit it promotes enthusiastically throughout its campus community.

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

UMass promotes ways to explore and improve upon current university practices to make them healthier and more sustainable, by encouraging innovative solutions for the betterment of life within campus and beyond. President Obama recently recognized the university’s efforts when it came first among 1,500 colleges in the annual White House College Champions of Change Competition.

Sustainability is a part of the curriculum at UMass. Out of nearly ninety majors offered here, twenty five are related to sustainability, with more than 300 sustainability focused courses. The campus has eighty student Eco-Reps, who are responsible for overseeing the ‘green’ efforts in the residencies, whereas the Sustainability Fellows are responsible for managing ‘green’ activities such as Green Games and Sustainable Move-out to the Green Office Program.

UMass has an energy efficient campus, contributing to the long term commitment of reducing its carbon footprint. A central heating plant covers 100% of the heating requirements and 73% of electrical needs of the campus. In addition, 56% of the waste is recycled or composted. The architecture of the campus plays an important role in the sustainability procedure as well. Since 2011, every new building has been certified LEED Gold while 13 LEED registered projects are in the works.

Colorado State University

CSU has the highest score of all universities in the STARS reporting system, a transparent system designed to help universities measure their sustainability performance. With 11 LEED Gold buildings under its belt, the university has managed to promote its sustainability cause across the entire campus and beyond.

The Princeton Review named Colorado State University in its Green Honor Roll, a prestigious list of 24 of the top sustainability colleges, out of a total 861 colleges. CSU also earned a high position in Sierra Magazine’s ‘Coolest Schools’ ranking, landing at number eleven, out of nearly 175 universities.  The university stands at a high ranking (4th) nationally for solar power at a major public research university according to a 2011 report by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). CSU bought a 15 acre solar plant with an annual expected output of 3.5 million kilowatt hours, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5.5 million pounds annually.

The university helps reduce the amount of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere and encourages a greener community; CSU’s Forest Service tree nursery produced nearly 2 million seedlings per year, adding to the healthy atmosphere and helping with the carbon monoxide reduction. The university is also big on recycling, with a comprehensive and well integrated reuse and recycle plan to help avoid waste materials ending up in landfills

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech is a leader in Campus Sustainability. Mid 2013, the University Council approved the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment Revision. This memorandum established a target of GHG emissions reduction to 80% below the 1990 emission level of 188,000 tons by 2050. The total carbon footprint for Virginia Tech has reduced from 344,477 in FY09 to 308,378 in FY12. Efforts are being made to improve electrical and heating efficiency of the campus facilities.

Alternate transportation policies are being implemented by the university officials as well. Virginia Tech was recognized nationwide with a Gold “Race to Excellence” award by The Best Workplaces for Commuters. Virginia Tech also made it to the list of bicycle friendly universities which includes a total of 58 colleges and universities in 30 states.

As for recycling, Virginia Tech had a goal of 35% recycle rate by 2012. It achieved a 44.1% final rate for 2012, which marked the fourth consecutive year the university surpassed its initially set out goal. Dining services food waste composting increased by an impressive 43% to a record 548 tons. Trash was reduced by 103 tons as well.

2013 saw Virginia Tech receive the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award, which recognizes environmental efforts in sustainability and land conservation. The university just missed the STARS rating of gold by 2 points and landed the silver rating and also has several LEED certified buildings.

San Francisco State University

Princeton Review’s Green College Honor Roll for 2013 gave the San Francisco State University the highest possible score of 99. The college is greatly committed towards the cause of sustainability and the concept of a green lifestyle. It applies principles of sustainability across all operations including planning, policies, education, student activities, research and community participation.

SF State has made considerable efforts to conserve the world’s atmosphere. Solar panels have been installed, generating up to and even over 100% of electricity needs of the Bay Conference Centre. Food scrap composting is encouraged through Mill Valley Refuse and cans, plastics and glass bottles are recycled as part of sustainability efforts.

The university also has future initiatives lined up. These include improvement of the carpool access, recycling of packing materials, compost paper towels in the restrooms, construction of walking trails to create a more pedestrian-friendly campus and so on.

The Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies is a center for advance understanding of the world’s complex marine and estuarine environments through research and education, with a focus on the San Francisco Bay. It has been the pioneer for the university’s green efforts, with a 36 acre site as a living lab for sustainability studies and research.

University of California, Santa Cruz

UCSC has been known for its efforts and initiatives in sustainability education, research and community engagement plans. In 2001, students established the Student Environment Center (SEC) which has since held annual Earth Summits and established the Campus Sustainability Council.

In 2014, according to the Princeton Review’s Green College Honor Roll, UCSC received the highest score possible. The university was applauded for its commitment to the cause of sustainability in academic offerings, campus facilities and architecture, operations, activities and career preparation.

UCSC also launched a 2014 Drought Response Program to reduce water usage across all campus activities and operations. This is to help with the stage 3 water shortage in the City of Santa Cruz. The university is working towards reducing trash, which was reduced to 2.5% of the overall reported waste.

The university promoted sustainability through education as well as through curricular and co-curricular activities and has the Awareness, Education & Engagement Working Group in place for this purpose. As for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the UCSC’s Bike Library Program encourages students to establish a more bike friendly environment on campus. Renewable power generation on campus will help the university generate or purchase enough solar energy to provide power to 38,000 homes by 2017.

Santa Clara University

SCU, a Jesuit college, is highly invested in the cause of preserving the environment for the greater good of the society. The university’s curriculum is designed to reflect this cause with around thirty departments at the university offering courses with a sustainability component. The university also offers majors in environmental science and environmental studies, among other potential green career options.

The university has made some major efforts to decrease GHG emissions per person, which has gone down by an amazing 40 percent since 2005. 40% of all university vehicles are either hybrid or electrical. Staff and faculty receive benefits such as discounts on public transportation. SCU generated 41,381 therms of onsite solar thermal power and 1.7 million kWh of onsite photovoltaic electricity.

SCU also makes efforts for recycling and controlling the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It managed to divert 58% of the waste in 2013 by recycling and composting. Over 85% of the university’s huge 104 acre land is irrigated with recycled water.  

SCU students are very active in sustainability efforts as well. They have participated in three US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competitions, which saw them build highly technical, fully functional solar homes. Students also coordinate with the Sustainable Living Undergraduate Research Project (SLURP) which backs year long projects based on research on ways to make residence life greener.

University of California, Irvine

In 2004, the University of California, Irvine introduced a policy on Sustainable Practices within an operational framework to promote more green architecture and fixtures. The university has now made it a requirement that all new construction on campus must seek LEED silver at a minimum. 8 buildings on campus are already LEED Gold and 11 are LEED Platinum. UC Irvine has also put together a 1.2 megawatt DC solar power system which is supposed to produce over 24 million kilowatt hours (equivalent to off-setting 25.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide) over 20 years.

The university has also made efforts in terms of greener transportation alternatives. 43.6 million vehicle miles have been reduced and around 14,000 tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions have been controlled.  Dining Services are also controlling their waste. On determining that 430 pounds of food waste per day was being caused by the use of trays, the university eliminated trays and reduced waste by 180 pounds in 2008. This figure rose to an additional 70 pounds in 2009 through determined efforts of the campus community.

UC Irvine also offers a large range of educational programs in sustainability related studies. The Department of Earth System Science offers an excellent faculty, state of the art research labs, technology and advance instrumentation.

College of the Atlantic

College of the Atlantic is set in the picturesque Bar Harbor in Maine, giving off the ideal vibe of sustainability and healthy lifestyle that it aims to promote. The college is small with only a few hundred students, all enrolled in the field of human ecology.

In 2007, COA was the first US College to become carbon neutral and has since been highly committed to the cause of green architecture, land conservation, preservation of historic elements and elimination of materials poisonous to the surrounding environment.

COA has made efforts to cater with climate change and energy problems, with a strategic plan to reduce emissions to 15% below 2007 levels by 2009. 100% of the college’s energy is procured in the form of hydropower.

The college is also big on food and recycling, purchasing its produce from local farms. In addition to that, it uses only reusable dishware and has eliminated the use of trays. All food waste is composted.

Architecture wise, the college invests in working with energy consultants to design building projects. Three existing buildings already meet both LEED and Energy Star-label criteria. All new construction features compost toilets and waterless urinals.

The college has landed a place on the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll; was the #1 college on The Daily Green’s ’10 of the Green Colleges in America’. It was also one of the 26 colleges earning the top grade of A- awarded by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. COA was ranked number five by Sierra Magazine’s Cool Schools and number two by the Fiske Guide’s 10 Best Colleges for Environmental Studies.

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

UCCS understands the need for sustainability and how it affects society, environment and the economy. The university has made several commitments to this cause. A Climate Action Plan Committee was formed to analyze and suggest a date by which the campus could achieve carbon neutrality.

UCCS is a state university, and is therefore pushed by the State of Colorado to take a leadership position in the new energy economy. The university’s Lighting Retrofit program was divided into phases, with the first phase targeting five major campus buildings for retrofits of T-12 fluorescent lamps to T-8 lamps and the replacement of magnetic ballasts with electronic ballasts. The retrofit is expected to provide 40% in savings (for lighting) in these buildings, improving illumination and reducing the university’s carbon footprint. 

UCCS is particular about its recycling duties as well. It has made efforts to divert waste from landfills into facilities that can process waste and convert it into new products. In the year 2014, the university has managed to recycle 175,409 lbs so far and has composted 156, 630 lbs up till now.

The university campus is greener due to its existing and developing architecture. The Campus Recreation Center is the first public building in southern Colorado to have received a LEED Gold certification. The Osborne Center for Science and Engineering, the Gollogly Conference and Events Center, Centennial Hall, the Copper House and Eldora House are all LEED Gold certified buildings.

American University – Washington College of Law

WCL takes its conservation and sustainability responsibilities seriously. With its Program on International & Comparative Environmental Law, the university has made sustainability a part of its curriculum and encourages students to not only study environmental protection laws, but also incorporate green aspects into their extra-curricular activities. The university is a signatory of ACUPCC and the Tailloires Declaration and is also a STARS Charter Participant. Three full time and twenty part time sustainability staff members are responsible for making sure that conservation efforts are applied to all activities across campus, including the implementation of no-waste, sustainable  purchasing and green architecture regulations.

Over twenty five buildings are participating in a LEED Volume Existing Building certification initiative. The university’s Office of Sustainability is aiming to make maximum campus buildings LEED-certified. More than 2,150 solar photovoltaic panels on six of the university’s buildings have been installed, creating the largest solar power system in the District of Columbia. In the past year, WCL has also started composting paper towels, an initiative that is expected to divert around 13% of the total campus waste from the landfill.

American University WCL made it into the Princeton Review’s 2015 Green Honor Roll. It also made its way into Sierra Club’s America’s Greenest Colleges, at number two on this prestigious list.

Emory University

Emory University dedicates more than half of its campus space as protected green space, in addition to serving the local sustainably grown food items; it is also home to environmentally friendly construction and encourages alternate transportation methods. It takes its conservation duties seriously.

Emory University has a large number of green buildings; a total of 11 LEED Gold Buildings, 11 LEED Silver, 3 LEED Certified and an additional 7 pending certifications. The university also understands the need to conserve water, with the Georgia climate especially. In 2007, the water use was at a high 248,426,000 gallons, which has now been brought down to 240,290,000 gallons in 2012. While we’re on the topic of conservation, let’s talk a bit about EU’s energy saving efforts. It plans to reduce energy usage by 25% per square foot by 2015 from the 2005 baseline and has come down from 229,642 btu/square foot to 192,587 btu/square foot from 2005 till 2013. (btu: British Thermal Unit)

Emory is also big on waste reduction and recycling. With a goal to recycle and compost 65% of the overall waste by 2015, the university has already managed to reach a high 63.2% of recycled/composted waste by the end of 2013.

Emory ranked at #16 in Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” list of the greenest US colleges and universities. The Georgia Conservancy recognized the university’s efforts in preserving and protecting Georgia’s environment by awarding it its “2008 Distinguished Conservationist of the Year”. The university is also on the Princeton Review’s 2009 Green Rating Honor Roll. 

University of Maryland

The University of Maryland community is provided with a fully integrated set of opportunities through coursework, community service, research and extra-curricular activities to understand the world’s sustainability needs and build towards conserving the environment.

The university has received several awards and certifications due to its active participation conserving the atmosphere. It received the STARS Gold Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in 2014. It was ranked #13 among “Cool Schools” by Sierra Magazine in 2013. And it was also among the 18 colleges and universities to make it into Princeton Review’s Green College Honor Roll for 2011. University of Maryland received the Second Nature Climate Leadership Award in 2011, the Maryland Green Registry Leadership Award in 2011 and won the America’s Greenest Campus Contest in 2009 for student, staff and faculty involvement.

The university has made several efforts towards sustainability. Its Climate Action Plan includes over 40 different strategies to make the campus carbon neutral by 2050. Between the years 2005 to 2011, the campus reduced its emissions by 14.4% and in 2012; the university achieved the goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 15%. The university has also incorporated into its curriculum. The Student Sustainability Advisors are responsible for teaching a one hour session to freshmen students to instill in them a sense of living green from the very start of college.

Arizona State University

In 2004, Julie Ann Wrigley made a contribution to the Arizona State University to help them establish the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, leading to the growth of the nation’s first School of Sustainability. The university aims to develop upon four cornerstones; education, research, business practices and global partnerships and transformation. The strategy employed by the university encourages leadership and coordination for its sustainability efforts. Training future leaders and entrepreneurs in sustainability, the relevant authorities place emphasis on sustainability across curriculum, research and community service. 

ASU has invested a lot of time and finances in its efforts towards climate neutrality. As of December 31, 2013, solar photovoltaic and thermal production capacity was 23.5 MWdc, which is over 43% of the university’s daytime peak load. The estimated annual electricity production per year reduces ASU’s carbon footprint by 7%.

The university also takes its recycling and reusing initiatives very seriously. In collaboration with Waste Management, ASU managed to achieve a 27% waste diversion rate in 2013 which amounts to 2,283 tons of waste from all four campuses.

ASU understands the importance of alternative transportation services for the greater sustainability cause. This is why it has ride-sharing, bicycling and walking encouraging initiatives in place. Moreover, the university is also home to several student organizations that promote and facilitate the green cause; including Campus Student Sustainability Initiatives, the Green Devils, the Farmers Market Student Ambassadors and the Barrett Sustainability Club.

Butte College

Butte College is renowned as a national leader in sustainability and conservation among community colleges. May 2011 saw the college become the first grid positive college in the US, producing more onsite solar power than it consumes. The college received approval from its Board of Trustees to complete its phase III solar project which added approximately 15,000 photovoltaic solar panels to the existing 10,000. This will make Butte College the largest solar power producing college in the nation for a total of 4.55 MWdc of renewable energy generation. In the next 50 years, all of Butte College’s solar projects are expected to save a net total of more than $150 million.

The college promotes active student participation in its sustainability efforts. With the Student Alliance for Sustainability in place, a lot is accomplished in terms of student participation through various events like Campus Sustainability Day, Sustainability Ball, Power Vote, Energy Awareness Fair and Earth Day.

Butte College has won the National Campus Sustainability Leadership Award, thanks to its tremendous efforts in the solar energy generation sector. Its students have received Green Building and Energy Systems Certifications, where people from local construction companies were invited to complete a three day Green Building and Energy Systems Workshop Series, offered on the Butte College Campus.

Lewis & Clark College

Lewis & Clarke College is a private college with a diverse student body from over 50 countries and six continents including the United States. The college takes its sustainability duties seriously, by engaging students, faculty and college administrators in efforts to accept and adopt the green lifestyle.

100% of the campus’ electricity power is generated through wind, and the administration has set a minimum LEED certified level for all of the college’s architectural projects. Forbes listed Lewis & Clarke on its list for America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses, praising its 137 acres of forested lands and environmentally sustainable buildings that blend with historic architecture.

The Lewis and Clark College has incorporated sustainability and environment protection in its curriculum as well. With its famous Environmental Studies Major, students are encouraged to solve real world environmental issues to build a more livable world. It also offers an Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program and an Ecopsychology in Counseling Certificate.

The college is big on climate change and energy usage. It purchases more than 4 million kilowatt hours of green power annually, off-setting one third of the school’s annual electricity use. As for food and recycling, the college sources food from 22 local farms, including a dairy. It also provides biodegradable and compostable to-go containers, and composts nearly 70 tons of waste per year.

The environmental crisis on our plate is our doing. Since we are the ‘problem’ here, we must be the solution as well. Let us take ownership of our actions and support/applaud these institutes in battling the beasts we have created. And deliver a better tomorrow to our future generations.


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