The Top 10 Colleges That Have Gone Green in 2023

According to a report by the National Centers for Environmental Information, last January of last year was the sixth warmest January in 143 years, exceeding the 20th-century average by 1.60°F (0.89°C) in January 2022.

As of the first part of 2022, temperatures were above average for the 46th consecutive January and the 445th consecutive month overall.

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These land and ocean temperature percentiles concluded in the agency’s reports are used to support informed decision-making for the public, businesses, and the rest of society.

The education industry also carries the burden of this sad news about the global climate issue. In a way to at least make an impact in their communities, the good news is that many colleges are going greener.

The importance of sustainability and climate change demands that educational institutions take part in the conversation and act to create a more sustainable future.

Green campuses or colleges and universities with a green building council or green initiative group promote sustainable and eco-friendly practices by combining environmentally friendly practices and education. 

By creating sustainable solutions to the environmental, social, and economic needs of mankind, the green campus concept offers an institution the opportunity to rethink its environmental culture and develop new paradigms.

American universities have taken steps to become more environmentally friendly through numerous sustainability goals and projects in recent years, even though environmental concerns may not be the top priority of the current government.

University campuses have also become greener in a sustainable sense, which makes them ideal study locations for nature lovers. 

Colleges That Have Gone Green - fact

Whether you’re an environmentalist yourself or an amateur in being a green advocate, attending a green college will somehow support your passion for restoring the planet earth. No matter how small or trivial such efforts are, they will still make a big difference. 

Another perk of attending a green university is that it’s not only environmentally conscious, but you’ll also have a visually stunning environment and campus.

To green the campus, wasteful inefficiencies need to be eliminated, conventional energy sources used for power needs, waste disposal handled correctly, environmentally friendly supplies purchased, and effective recycling programs.

To implement green campus initiatives, the institute needs to have well-rounded strategies that will work both on their academic systems and learning practices. These strategies should be incorporated into institutional planning and budgeting to develop a clean and green campus.

Environmental sustainability is becoming increasingly important as climate change has devastating effects across diverse sectors. For institutions to remain competitive, they must implement environmental sustainability strategies. Colleges in the US that have emerging green initiatives are growing by number each year. 

Why Green Campuses are Necessary

Green universities use natural resources such as energy, water, and materials to meet their own needs while preserving the ability of other countries and future generations to meet their own needs as well. A green campus establishes its own systems and sustainability plans to contribute to helping preserve the planet Earth.

Earth’s life is threatened by global environmental problems such as global warming, biodiversity loss, or plastic pollution. As a result of these challenges, agriculture has already been negatively impacted by the loss of pollinating bees, droughts have negatively impacted water quality, and microplastics have negatively impacted human health in the food supply.

In their role as research and learning institutions, colleges and universities can play an important role in addressing these issues. That’s why becoming a green university is so important. And fortunately, many educational institutions realize its importance.

How US Colleges Take Part in Green Initiatives

Universities and colleges have a huge impact on their communities. Education institutions must act to create a better future by engaging in the conversation about sustainability and climate change. Here are some ways that they can take part in green initiatives:

  • Develop courses that focus on sustainability. Climate change can be combated through education. If learners become more familiar with such topics, they can better understand the gravity of this issue. 
  • Establish green initiative programs that should be mandated to instill in their students—for instance, banning the use of cars inside the campus or eliminating the use of plastics in cafeterias. 
  • Invest in sustainable research. Universities usually have big funds for research, and they can use them to create innovative technologies and solutions for green practices. 
  • Take part in the STARS program. Colleges and universities report on sustainability progress, build incentives for improvement and contribute to national data through the STARS program.
  • Ensure that underrepresented communities are supported. Schools should welcome a more diverse culture and community in their environment. There are disproportionate impacts of climate change on socially vulnerable groups in the US, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency report. Making positive changes is possible when schools can support these communities better. 

How Does a University Become “Green”?

An environmentally friendly university promotes a healthy lifestyle on campus and reduces the use of finite natural and human resources. In context, a university can call itself green when it can create a network of higher education institutions that promote environmental sustainability, low carbon development strategies, and climate resilience in their classrooms, training programs, campus operations, and student engagement strategies.

Schools can self-assess their performance and report it voluntarily through the STARS system. A STARS rating is currently awarded to more than 700 colleges and universities. As part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the STARS system aligns itself with them.

Each college or university can acquire credits based on the following criteria:

  • Academic quality
  • Engagement
  • Planning and Administration
  • Operations
  • Institutional characteristics
  • Leadership and innovation 

The highest platinum rating is achieved by earning 85 points. 

10 Colleges That Have Gone Green

Stanford University

Stanford University

Stanford University was recognized with three best practice awards by the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC). In the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) of the National Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Stanford has been rated Platinum

Stanford’s sustainability achievements are based on its achievements in operations, academics, engagement, planning, administration, innovation, and leadership. On-campus and off-campus solar installations account for most of Stanford University’s renewable energy consumption, accounting for 67.44% of the campus’s total energy consumption.

In terms of sustainability, Stanford has earned top marks for its use of solar energy.

Stanford University has significantly reduced potable water consumption since 2011 by 67.73%. One of Stanford’s water conservation programs is “My Cardinal Green.”

Student participation in this program results in personalized recommendations for reducing environmental impact. Completing the suggestions will earn students points and monetary rewards.

Princeton University

Princeton University

As a result of its commitment to environmental sustainability, Princeton University has earned a gold STARS ranking under the Office of Sustainability. This office’s website offers students tips on recycling, conserving water, and reducing waste.

The Pace Center for Civic Engagement offers 15 sustainability student groups and opportunities for community service. This helps students make meaningful connections and impact through civic and service engagements.

The Sustainability Action Plan for Princeton University was published in April 2019. Updated information about the University’s progress on its sustainability reports is available on these pages.

There are also several academic opportunities at the university that are focused on sustainability, including an undergraduate engineering and science program.

Iowa State University

Iowa State University

The sustainability infrastructure at Iowa State University Ames makes it one of the leading green campuses in the country.

The infrastructure comprises seven student and faculty groups supporting the university’s “Live Green!” initiative. This program works to engage all students, faculty, and staff in making our campus, its operations, and initiatives as environmentally friendly as possible.

As part of this initiative, ISU is improving its environmental and energy efficiency both academically and extracurricular. Hands-on learning is a major focus in both of these areas.

Through volunteer work, research, study abroad, and club activities, students can gain real-world experience and make a difference.

Warren Wilson College

Warren Wilson College

The sustainability efforts at Warren Wilson College are centered around individual students. They’re considered the top green college in the South. One of their amazing sustainable achievement is that their recycling rate surpasses 50%. In addition, a large portion of their dining services budget is spent on local/organic foods. 

Student habits that reduce waste are encouraged as part of the college’s emphasis on personal responsibility. As one of many institutions that have divested from fossil fuels, Warren Wilson is committed to buying and serving locally sourced foods that respect the welfare of humans and the environment. A zero-waste institution is the college’s goal by 2032.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University

The sustainable purchasing practices of Arizona State University contributed to the university’s high rankings. In addition to purchasing biodegradable cleaners and phosphate-free cleaners, choosing cleaning products that are EPA Safer Choice certified or Green Seal certified, and purchasing products that contain low or no reactive organic compounds.

In fact, Arizona State University has its own School of Sustainability, which allows students to conduct sustainability research. Their goal is to promote environmental integrity, social equity, and well-being through innovative research, impactful education, and community engagement. 

ASU’s Global Development Research Program is one of its most notable programs. Graduate students can use this program to help design sustainable solutions to development challenges by researching with the US Agency for International Development.

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley is presently ranked 27th worldwide and tops the list for environmental sciences. In 2008, the Office of Sustainability was established to promote environmental stewardship. 

Such efforts to promote awareness and engagement through education, outreach, and committees have led to a greater understanding of sustainability principles, which are now applied to building projects, water and energy reductions, transportation, food choices, and supply purchases.

Its green spaces are impressive, and its environmental record is excellent. On campus, UC Berkeley uses natural gas to heat, cool, and power its lab equipment.

More than 55 student clubs and groups are involved in sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley. ASUC Helios Solar is one program that encourages the school to invest in renewable energy by facilitating solar panel installations off-campus. 

As part of its commitment to eliminating non-essential single-use plastic, the university will ban plastic bags, food containers, and packaging used in academic, research, and administrative activities by 2030.

Cornell University

Cornell University

As one of only eleven institutions to hold the highest STARS designation, Cornell renewed its platinum status in 2021. Sustainability research, education, and development occur on the university’s campus. 

Eight years after pursuing carbon neutrality in 2007, Cornell University achieved the goal. Green campus initiatives include food and transportation for students, staff, and faculty.

A hydropower plant and solar farms on campus provide much of the energy for Cornell’s campus.

Over 700 classes focused on sustainability are available to students in addition to clubs that focus on sustainability. In terms of climate change and sustainability, their campuses serve as living laboratories.

University of New Hampshire

University of New Hampshire

In the endowment pool of the University of New Hampshire’s foundation, over $295 million is invested, and 46.77 percent is in sustainable investments. The school aims to support sustainable companies through its investing efforts.

In fall 2021, UNH earned a renewed Platinum rating from STARS, becoming one of only a few schools in the country to achieve this level. Faculty, staff, and students at UNH contributed to UNH’s Platinum status through a long-term, concerted effort.

Its transparency about emissions is also impressive. Data collection is done by students who intern with campus departments. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions are also verified and reviewed every year by a third party.

The University of New Hampshire used landfill gas to power its campus for the first time. A 12.7-mile pipeline supplies enriched and purified gas to UNH’s campus as part of the EcoLine project. This transcends 80%–85% of the University’s energy from renewable sources.

Chatham University Pittsburgh

Chatham University Pittsburgh

Frequently working to make its campus more environmentally friendly, Chatham University is one of many green universities that have pledged to become carbon neutral. This campus has been recognized as a Tree Campus by Tree Campus USA.

Forbes named Chatham University in 2012 as one of the places contributing to Pittsburgh’s transformation into a green living destination.

A sustainable living, learning, and development community was built from the ground up at Eden Hall Campus in 2014. The learning institution also participates in RecycleMania, a national recycling tournament. 

Colorado State University

Colorado State University

Colorado State University was established as a research university in 1870 as the Colorado Agricultural College. Global sustainability science is advanced through innovative research done at Colorado State University.

They integrate sustainability’s economic, social, and environmental dimensions into their academic programs. By organizing events and discussions, they promote dialogue about sustainable practices.

Also on campus at Colorado State is Pingree Park, a unique mountain campus that offers college students a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life and experience the natural world.

In terms of sustainability, the university has committed to using 100 percent renewable energy on its Fort Collins campus by 2030 and runs a variety of other initiatives.  

Why You Should Consider Attending a Green Campus

You should recognize that the green policies and programs that schools adopt can greatly impact your quality of life, even if you aren’t a die-hard green advocate.

Healthy and efficient practices are employed on campus when decision-makers take the time and effort to do so. In turn, these are the perks that you can take advantage of when attending a green campus:

Al Fresco Dining And Lounging Areas

While chilling and lounging in air-conditioned places seem comfortable and safe, it’s also advantageous to have al fresco dining and lounging areas.

After all, local and organic food tastes better in such open spaces. Green schools will design more open areas that allow students to appreciate natural views better. 

Fresh Food Quality Choices in Cafeteria

Non-green campuses will forgo using bad-quality ingredients that are unsustainably resourced. Instead of sourcing from long-distance suppliers that only produce low-grade cafeteria food, they shift to purchasing from local farmers and fresh produce from them. This enables students to enjoy sustainable food of the freshest quality. 

There are many nutrition options available through sustainable dining. Also, many green campuses are responsible for their food waste by creating food compost.  

Access to Fresh Air and More Natural Light

A green college designs and operates its buildings with sustainable living in mind. Natural lighting improved air quality, and energy and water conservation are all features of their facilities. A green campus usually invites more natural light through its premises by installing more windows in its buildings.

They also make use of effective insulation to improve the indoor temperature during cold and summer months. 

Furthermore, they invest in solar energy systems to ensure effective electricity usage. Using real-time energy reporting, they can easily see how much solar electricity is produced and how much electricity and water are used throughout the day.

Thus, these characteristics lead to more welcoming academic and social communities and more enjoyable living, learning, and playing environments.

Walkable and Convenient

Studying at a green campus allows for more walkable roads and pavements where students can enjoy scenic views, nature vibes, and fresh air.

Green schools usually have mobility features such as walkable pathways that make the walking experience in school fun and enjoyable. School bike cultures are thriving at some schools. 

Other companies provide free bus passes or car-sharing services or transport riders via campus shuttles. Choosing these options will allow you more freedom while lessening your environmental impact

What STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) Constitute

Colleges and universities can measure their sustainability performance with the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating SystemTM (STARS). This program is under the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education which works to recognize and engage institutions at all levels of higher education. 

Institutions already high-achieving institutions can use it to set long-term sustainability goals, and those just starting out can use it as a starting point for recognition. 

Here are some of the objectives that are set out by the STARS program:

  • Improve sustainability by creating incentives.
  • To facilitate the exchange of information about sustainability practices and performance in higher education.
  • Create a framework to help higher education institutions understand sustainability.
  • Strengthen and diversify the sustainability community on campus.
  • Utilize a common set of campus sustainability measurements developed with broad participation to enable meaningful comparisons across institutions over time.

A green institution can earn a STARS Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum Rating, and students can be guided through if they consider these factors upon enrollment. Each seal represents the institution’s sustainability leadership and practices.

Tips for Students to Contribute to a More Sustainable Campus

Students may not spend a lot of time thinking about the environment. However, the fact is that local ecosystems are impacted wherever people live.

Campuses at colleges and universities are no exception. Anyone can participate in contributing to a more sustainable campus. It’s not the sole responsibility of the college or institution to become fully green. 

Because university campuses cater to a large population, they are likely to generate far more waste than other types of residences. When university term starts, some areas can see an influx of tens of thousands of students.

Here are some of the best practices that students can adopt a green approach to their college studies:

Embrace Digitalization

In the past, professors and lecturers usually handed out many printed papers and notebooks as study references and guides. But thanks to the advent of technology, transitioning to paperless systems can be achieved even in the education industry. 

Despite the presence of many of these items on university campuses, there has definitely been a shift toward a more digital approach. Students should take advantage of using their current gadgets, such as tablets, laptops, and mobile phones, for digital learning. 

This approach definitely helps reduce paper usage. Use your computer to take notes, and only print out things you need. Make sure you back everything up on a regular basis so you won’t lose files.

Getting classmates and staff on board with going digital can also have an even greater impact on creating a sustainable campus.

Consider Adopting A Minimalist Lifestyle

Living a minimalist lifestyle is an effective way to live sustainably. Buying new goods only when they are truly needed is what this means. By adopting a minimalist lifestyle, you can reduce consumption and therefore help reduce waste in landfills. 

Consumerism is a social issue in the world, and shifting to a minimalist lifestyle can somehow alleviate this. Also, the experience of living a minimalist lifestyle at university can be beneficial for years to come, when possessions tend to accumulate.

Learn to Recycle

Recycling is one of the easiest ways to make your campus more sustainable. Colleges and universities should be launching green programs such as recycling operations. And students should take part in it even in their own little ways. 

Many college campuses have recycling facilities for paper, plastic, electronics, and clothing, so look for these facilities on your campus. You can also use other local recycling facilities. Take the lead in developing your university’s recycling program if it doesn’t already have one, and encourage your friends to do the same.

The act of recycling requires students to think about where they are throwing away their trash, which isn’t something that comes naturally to most people. There are usually recycling programs in place at colleges and universities. However, it’s best to learn more about the process. 

Perhaps you can contribute to your school’s sustainability by improving its recycling systems and making them more effective. Campuses with more than one location may have multiple recycling programs, so find out what can and can’t be recycled.

College campuses are also implementing composting initiatives. Explore any of these viable recycling approaches and see how you can help or take the initiative.

Avoid One-Time-Use Products

Unfortunately, plastic wastes are one of the biggest hurdles for consumerism today. Students also make use of one-time use packaged items and disposable waste like plastic forks, spoons, knives, water bottles, and other items that are only good for use once. The majority of disposables made of plastic are not biodegradable. 

In other words, they have a very long life span in landfills before they decompose. As a student who wants to help green campuses make a difference, you can minimize the use of one-time use cutlery and other things.

For instance, use reusable plates, cutlery, cups, water bottles, and dishware when eating meals. These small practices will help you live much more sustainably. Not to mention, it saves a lot of costs too. Plastic packages come with hefty price tags, after all. 

You can get free water refills on your campus if you bring a water bottle container with you every time. This accumulates to large savings at the end of the month. 

Ride a Bike to School

Fossil fuel is a non-renewable resource that’s getting a shortage in some countries. As the demand for its use increases, so is the supply getting smaller. It’s only a matter of time before fossil fuel is going to be empty.

This data says that oil deposits will be gone by 2052. The best alternative to minimize fuel consumption is commuting or riding a bike to your campus.

It is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transportation around since it uses only the energy your legs expend. Keeping fit and healthy will also benefit you.

US Colleges Best Practices for Going Green

The term sustainability is often used to describe practices that have existed for quite some time but are now more comprehensive.

However, climate change and oil resources are bringing new urgency to sustainability. Due to this, its definition has expanded far beyond recycling or adopting minimalist lifestyles.

Here are some best practices that US colleges should adopt to become green:

Switching to cleaner resources

Leading green school colleges and universities are increasingly adopting more sustainable energy sources behind the scenes and sometimes quite publicly.

Finally, many institutions are installing solar panels or investing in wind energy systems. Although such initiatives require hefty initial investments, they’re known to produce more ROI.

Installing more gardens

At colleges and universities, campus gardens are becoming increasingly popular. Students can benefit greatly by using these open spaces to study, relax, and take a break from school pressures and demands. There are many health benefits of getting outside

Moreover, having a school garden allows the institution to farm local herbs, fruits, and vegetables that can be used as ingredients in their cafeteria. This is also a great laboratory and learning avenue for agriculture students. 

Incorporating more water fountains

Some schools have recognized the value of installing water refill stations due to the millions of plastic water bottles thrown away daily.

Penn State University alone offers more than 100 water refill stations around campus, so students don’t have to spend money on bottled water or create more waste. 

Having more water fountains accessible to students produce many wins for the environment, the student’s budget for water consumption, and the school’s sustainability approach.

Encouraging students to use carpooling

Fast lanes dedicated to carpoolers are now the norm in large urban areas.

By encouraging students to use public transportation and shuttle services, colleges and universities, particularly those with large campuses, have also attempted to reduce drive-alone rates, as well as by implementing carsharing programs and other initiatives, such as bike share programs, which reduce emissions from car use. 

School canteens reducing food waste

Food is wasted in the United States every year in the amount of 108 billion pounds. Over $408 billion worth of food is thrown away yearly, which equals 130 billion meals.

Sadly, America wastes nearly 40% of its food. This means that some of these percentages are accumulated by schools all over the nation. Therefore, one of the best green practices that US colleges should apply is to reduce this number. 

Several colleges and universities have begun composting and reducing food waste. Students were also encouraged only to get food that fit on their plates when some schools removed trays. In some schools, leftovers can be taken back to dorms using reusable food containers. There are many more ideas to eliminate food waste. 

Partnering with the government to strengthen efforts for going green

The Environmental Protection Agency fosters a Green Power Partnership with communities, schools, and establishments to utilize green power or electricity produced using sustainable sources like solar, geothermal, eligible biomass, wind, biogas, and low-impact hydroelectric sources.

Through a Green Power Partnership with EPA, environmentally responsible colleges benefit from the support, expert advice, tools and resources, and publicity or recognition that the federal agency offers.

Summary Points

  • Despite what may seem like a long way away, the planet is already suffering irreversible consequences of climate change. Natural resources and our treatment of them can significantly impact our lives every day. Future generations will experience huge repercussions, even if we don’t notice them right away. 
  • Therefore, it’s time to act as early as now. Little things like enrolling in green colleges may not seem like trivial decisions anymore. 
  • Choosing a university known for its energy and environmental design efforts provides numerous benefits that make your student life experience better. It may also allow you to experience energy-efficient dorms and healthier dining options that cater to various food restrictions and preferences. 
  • Additionally, campus shuttles, bike paths that are well-maintained, and ride-sharing programs are available.
  • University programs focusing on sustainability are developed in the greenest universities because their main purpose is education. Hopefully, you can find the best college that is green and in line with your green beliefs.

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