How Colleges Are Going Green

From LEED certification to locally grown food, universities have an eye on sustainability.

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The almighty U.S. News College Rankings, as I previously mentioned, don't include a green listing this year. However, universities are getting greener by the minute, with environmental studies courses and abundant green initiatives. Here are a few highlights:

  • In the Environmental Protection Agency's "Green Power Challenge," universities compete against others in their athletic bracket to see who can purchase the cleanest energy. As of last month, Colby College is in the overall lead, offsetting 115 percent of its energy. NYU, UC Santa Cruz, Connecticut College, Western Washington, Evergreen, Central Oklahoma, Southern New Hampshire, and St. Mary's of Maryland are all offsetting their power by 100 percent.
    • Environmentalism is becoming part of orientation. Beginning August 28, Smith College students will learn how to minimize their impact on the environment both on and off campus in a pre-orientation program, "Sustainability and Ecological Literacy." Topics include recycling, how to live a car-free lifestyle, energy conservation, and organic food. Students will tour a power plant, take nature walks, and meet those in charge of the college's environmental efforts (Smith hired a sustainability director this spring).
      • More and more new dormitories are becoming LEED certified. Duke claims the first platinum LEED rating for a campus residence with its new 10-student Home Depot Smart Home. Many other schools around the country, including Warren Wilson College and Carnegie Mellon University, have silver- and gold-rated dorms. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) Students can also think about green dorm decorations.
        • Organic food is a huge draw for college students across the country. It's being incorporated into many schools' dining hall menus, from fast food to gourmet—well, as gourmet as college food can get. The New York Times reported on Yale's organic cafe, Brown's farmer's market, and Wheaton's low-carbon meals. The University of Minnesota uses locally grown food and composts its waste. Organic to Go fast-food kiosks make the choice to eat organic quick and easy at the University of Washington, many of the state schools in California, and Georgetown University. Nina Merrill, a senior at Colgate University, started a blog, Organic on the Green, to chronicle schools' efforts to get greener food.
          • Grist's list of 15 eco-friendly colleges lists two schools that are only for the environmentally minded:the College of the Atlantic, which offers human ecology as a design-your-own major, and EARTH University in Costa Rica, dedicated to the environmental sciences.