A Guide to Green Campuses

A resource round-up for picking an eco-friendly college

| February 15, 2007

As the college acceptance letters start rolling in this February, there's a lot for parents and their college-bound kids to sort through when making the big decision of where to go. Here's one important question well worth adding to the list: Just how green are the schools' campuses?

In recent years, college and university campuses have proven crucial leaders in the movement to make large-scale, resource-demanding institutions more environmentally friendly. Many have implemented projects that promote alternative energies, energy efficiency, and environmental sustainability. But not everyone's jumped on the eco-bandwagon. So who's doing what? When picking the place you'll spend the next four or five years (or, for parents: the place you'll send your child and dollars), it helps to know which colleges are moving forward and which are slow to change. Here are a few questions to ask, and resources to help you answer them.

Does the college make the sustainability grade?
The Sustainable Endowments Institute, a project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, has turned the tables on grade-givers by handing out report cards to universities and colleges. With the College Sustainability Report Card, the institute evaluated 100 schools across the country on a litany of green factors, such as 'climate change & energy' and 'food & recycling.' More than a few universities were given an 'F' for a lack of public statements and for failing to make endowment holdings or shareholder voting records available. Only four on the institute's roster received an A- (the highest grade earned). Meanwhile, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (an association of US and Canadian colleges) is keeping a list of schools' 'campus sustainability profiles.' Check out the association's site for its annual Campus Sustainability Leadership Award winners, complete with links detailing the schools' sustainability projects.

Is the campus vegetarian friendly?
Scavenging for vegetarian items at a restaurant every so often is doable, but having to scrape together a hodgepodge of meatless items the entire four years at college can be down right difficult. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has compiled a list of colleges the group thought did a stellar job of providing vegetarian meals with diversity in mind. On the coattails of the release of that list, Slashfood added a handful of colleges that had veggie-friendly college towns to make foraging for food off-campus a bit more fulfilling for the vegetarian belly.

Does the cafeteria food come shipped in from miles away or is it grown locally?
The Community Food Security Coalition's Farm To College website provides a map and a list of schools that participate in programs that help facilitate a relationship between universities and local farms. Taking the connection one step farther is New Farm's guide to working farms on campus. The project, funded by the Rodale Institute, lists on-campus farms that provide hands-on, small-scale farming experience to undergraduate and graduate students (the site also provides information on programs for children and the general public).

How effective are college activist groups?
Another way to read the eco-friendly meter is to check out what student-activist groups are doing on campus. Each year Mother Jones posts a round-up of college activism that merits note. Another great resource is the Worldwatch Institute's list of Campus Greening Initiatives, which features efforts like Macalester's installation of green roofs on some buildings. A group project called the Campus Climate Challenge brings together more than 45 youth organizations to support a long-term movement to reduce pollution from colleges through upgrades and clean power initiatives. The outfit's website links to a bevy of resources, with aids including everything from a map of schools that have groups participating in the challenge to a 'Power Directory' with tips on how to figure out where your school's electricity comes from.

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