Sustainability 101: The Greenest Colleges and Universities in the Country


Back in the day, finding an environmentally-aware college was a tough assignment, but these days the amount of universities with green programs and sustainable energy or food policies courses are in the hundreds. Ferreting out 10 of our favorites was tough, but having so many awesome colleges to choose from is a great problem to have.

University of Colorado at Boulder (shown above) – CU-Boulder is just about the greenest university you can imagine. It’s got 27 different degree, major, or certification programs related to environmental studies and cranks out more scientific publications on environmental research than any other institution in the nation. Folsom Field, home of the Colorado Buffaloes football team is a zero-waste stadium and the college’s campus-wide recycling program is run by students. This year, the school partnered with Zipcar to encourage ride-sharing and carpooling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Unity College – Wow, students from this college in Maine recently had a meeting with White House staffers to discuss putting solar panels on the Presidential abode. The White House didn’t agree to do it, unfortunately, but these kids get an “A” for effort. Meanwhile, back on campus an Environmental Stewardship Curriculum is built into every student’s education so they graduate prepared for “leadership roles in environmental issues, on levels ranging from local to global.”

College of the Atlantic – Here’s one college cafeteria you’ll enjoy eating in. Almost all the beef it serves is grass-fed and the produce comes from local farms or the campus’ own organic farm. Recently-built student housing is powered by renewable energy and all new construction is built with water-and energy-saving details in mind. The school also runs shuttle to ferry students to back and forth to a nearby town and provides bikes for on-campus use.

Middlebury College – This small liberal arts college in Vermont thinks big when it comes to environmental awareness. Local farmers and on-campus gardens supply food to the cafeteria and wind turbines power the school’s recycling facility. An $11-million biomass plant is being built on the campus so the college can be carbon neutral by 2016, but in the meantime students are keeping busy participating in the Green Finger Project, a viral campaign aimed at raising awareness of the disturbing effects of climate change on the planet.

University of Maryland – The administration at this College Park campus puts their money where their mouth is. Students, faculty, and staff with big ideas that promote on-campus environmental sustainability can apply for money to fund their projects and make them a reality. The school schedules regular presentations and film screenings on everything from climate change to reducing energy use, and sponsors 15 different sustainability-related clubs for students to join.

New York University – NYU is well-known for its arts and drama departments, but it’s got one heck of a sustainability program going on, too. It offers grad and undergrad degrees in subjects like urban planning, environmental health, global affairs, and more. Campus projects include a bike-sharing program, sustainability task force (think Green Police), and an environmental health clinic for students and faculty.

Warren Wilson College – This small college in Asheville, NC takes its impact on the environment very seriously. They’ve got their own Climate Action Plan that serves as a roadmap for the school’s vision of the “practice of sustainability.” Students grow food in the Cow Pie garden (um, yum?), power school-owned vehicles and equipment with biodiesel fuel, and live in eco-friendly dorms. They also design and participate in outreach programs that educate elementary school students and participate in the National Audubon Society Seabird Restoration Program.

University of Oregon – Students at this school have a long list of choices when they’re ready to make a positive impact on the environment. For instance, Project Tomato sends incoming freshman on a four-day bike trip to local farms to harvest tomatoes. They bring their haul back to the dining hall and make about 64 gallons of pizza sauce – enough to serve a week’s worth of pies – all the while learning about sustainable agriculture.

Evergreen State College – This cool school gets huge brownie points for creativity thanks to its Sustainable Prisons Project. Paired with the Washing State Department of Corrections, students help figure out ways to reduce the footprint of prisons through environmental awareness and sustainable practices. On campus, you’ll find a salmon-safe certified organic farm, conservation programs, and study halls outfitted with solar panels.

Arizona State University-Tempe – ASU’s renewable energy policies alone are enough to make this school stand out in the crowd. The campus sports six wind turbines and several buildings are already solar panel-equipped, with more to follow in the next few years. Annual recycling drives let students donate old belongings to charity rather than dump them at the curb at the end of the school year, and the Electric Vehicle Club submits a hybrid race car for the yearly Formula Hybrid Competition in Loudon, NH.

Image: Stuart Yeates