Small tree growing in dirt inside light bulb with sustainability symbols around

10 Colleges That Went Green Before It Was Cool

Being eco-friendly is all the rage—and for good reason! See how colleges and universities around the country have gone green and how you can do it too.

Do you remember when green initiatives began sweeping across college campuses? In the summer of 2010, The Princeton Review began its “Green Rating” in which colleges are judged on a variety of criteria based on their eco-friendly policies. Eleven colleges earned top honors with 99 points, securing them a place on the Green Rating Honor Roll, but many other schools have taken action to combat damage to the environment. Here are a few creative ways schools found to join the movement and go green.

1. Stanford University

Stanford University took one of the staples of the dining hall and turned it eco-friendly. In an effort to cut back on waste, the University started replacing plastic forks and knives with cutlery made of potato starch and salad bowls made of sugar cane. Instead of tossing the dining utensils into trash cans, students started throwing it all in compost bins. Everything is composted off site and brought back to campus as fertilizer for the dining gardens and the Stanford Community Farm.

Related: 10 Great Universities at the Forefront of Climate Change Education

2. Portland Community College

Hate washing your coffee cup when you get home from class? Portland Community College made drinking your morning cup of joe hassle-free. Located in what’s been called the greenest city in the United States on many occasions, PCC started offering its students a five-cent discount on all beverages when a mug is used rather than a paper cup. No mug? No problem; the dining halls on campus have mug boards with hanging coffee cups for all to use. Students can take a mug off the board, drink from it, and return it when they’re done. Food services washes the mugs and puts them back up on the board to be used again another day.

3. University of New Hampshire

The University of New Hampshire was the first school in the nation to take on a project to use landfill gas to power its campus. The project, called EcoLine, supplies enriched and purified gas through a 12.7-mile pipeline to the UNH campus. It allows the University to take 80%–85% of its energy from renewable resources. In addition, EcoLine provided the power necessary for UNH’s 2009 graduation ceremony. With EcoLine’s official launch and the University’s 139th commencement, UNH had plenty to celebrate.

4. Wellesley College

Nine students at Wellesley College took on a tough challenge in 2010 by living in the College’s first sustainability co-op housing project. The students shared a kitchen and common living area and committed themselves to buying and eating only local, sustainable food. The students had to learn quickly how to preserve local produce and plan ahead for the cold Massachusetts winter. The community aimed to be a center for students to discuss environmental issues.

Related: Top 5 Ways to Be Green and More Sustainable on Your Campus

5. University of Massachusetts

The University of Massachusetts teamed up with Living Routes to give students the ultimate green experience abroad. Living Routes sponsors trips for students (high school and gap year students are also welcome) to ecovillages, or ecologically sustainable communities, to learn about issues concerning the population there, including sustainable development, green building, and organic agriculture. Trips take place in countries like Australia, Brazil, Peru, and Senegal and include both faculty members and students. In exchange for participating in the program, UMass offers students academic credit.

6. Middlebury College

In 2001, Middlebury College introduced its Yellow Bikes Cooperative. For a fee of $6 per year, students are able to borrow any of the yellow bicycles stored in bike racks around campus. In addition to the Yellow Bike Cooperative, Middlebury promotes bicycle use through a campus-owned and student-run bike shop. The shop offers free classes on bicycle repair. After just three classes, students are encouraged to choose from over 100 bicycles that have been abandoned on campus, fix them up, and claim them as their own, free of charge.

7. Harvard University

As one of the most visible colleges in the sustainability movement, Harvard University set up a revolving fund for students, faculty, and departments to use on green projects. The Revolving Green Campus Loan Fund, totaling $12 million, loans upfront capital for projects in areas of heating, behavioral change, insulation, renewable energy, and lighting. In order to be eligible, the project has to reduce the University’s environmental impact and have a payback period of five to 10 years or less. Since its inception in 2001, the fund has supported nearly 200 projects on campus.

8. The George Washington University

Built in 1849, the historic F Street House at The George Washington University received an upgrade in a very green way. The house, home to the University’s president, includes renovations such as Energy Star appliances, wood from sustainable forests, and a green roof. Green roofs are tops of buildings that are fully or partially covered in vegetation and soil. They can keep buildings insulated in the winter, cool in the summer, and help prevent water damage. And GWU isn’t the only college with grass on its rooftops. Harvard University, Cornell University, Pennsylvania State University, and Carnegie Mellon University, among others, all installed green roofs around the same time.

Connect me with GWU!

9. Palm Beach State College

Palm Beach State College offers an associate degree in Electrical Power Technology. The curriculum focuses on alternative energies such as wind and solar. Florida Power & Light Co., the second-largest energy company in the country, partnered up with the College and committed to hiring 20 graduates from the program out of the 100 who participate per year.

10. Ball State University

Ball State University wanted to update its current coal-fired boilers, built in the 1940s, for years. They took this opportunity to become a leader in the sustainable energy movement. Ball State drilled 3,750 wells on campus to tap into the Earth’s constant temperature. Each well was 400 feet deep and heated and cooled buildings on campus. The project did away with the use of the boilers, eliminating 85,000 tons of carbon dioxide produced by them annually, and created 870 jobs. 

Related: The Importance of Sustainability in the College Search

Sustainability and green energy solutions are so important to our world today—and they always have been. Consider these 10 innovative and green schools in your college search, because if this is where they were with sustainability all those years ago, imagine what they’re doing now.

Check out our “sustainability” tag to find other ways you can be more green!

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