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Colleges Going Green: Sustainability on Campus

Is environmental awareness and sustainability important to you in your college search? If so, you're in luck: many schools are rolling out environmentally friendly initiatives.

Solar Array at WesternU

From California to Massachusetts, Georgia to Alaska, schools across the country are in pursuit of a more sustainable campus. Environmentally friendly initiatives show prospective students, alumni, and parents that making an investment in the future of the Earth is important—much like investing in education.

Some schools have made great strides in reducing their footprints, with creative initiatives like campus-wide bans on plastic bags, community gardens, LEED-certified buildings, and green cleaning programs. Others may be just beginning to explore what makes sense from a financial and environmental perspective. No matter what stage a school is at, one thing is clear: savvy students and parents are evaluating schools from an environmental angle, making it even more important for them to demonstrate and communicate their dedication and future plans.

Students looking to assess a school’s commitment to sustainability should watch for the following:

  • A campus sustainability office that manages environmental initiatives and projects campus-wide
  • Student groups that drive dialogue and awareness and provide volunteer opportunities to make a difference in the community
  • Curriculum focused on addressing sustainability, which could include degree programs, classes, or study abroad initiatives
  • Investment in technology to reduce, reuse, and recycle, such as motion-activated lights, electric vehicles, reclaimed water systems and compost programs
  • Commitment to greening their energy use by purchasing renewable energy credits or installing on-site generation facilities
  • Membership and involvement in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)

Recent notable initiatives include Northern Virginia Community College’s commitment to match 35% of its natural gas usage with carbon offsets, which fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The school is one of the largest community colleges in the country, and across its six campuses, the carbon offsets purchase will have an environmental impact equivalent to avoiding the consumption of almost 125,000 gallons of gasoline. Other schools using carbon offsets include Duke University, which uses them to neutralize the impact of meetings and special events, and Middlebury College, which offers students the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets to make their study abroad travel carbon neutral.

While all sustainable efforts help to drive awareness of the importance of environmental preservation, some projects are more visible than others—literally. For example, Stonehill College is currently constructing a 15-acre solar array located across from its main campus. When complete, the project is expected to generate enough electricity to provide 20% of the college’s electricity needs. Other schools, like Evergreen State College, purchase 100% green energy and also invest in energy use reduction projects to lessen demand.

With so much focus on sustainability in the higher education realm, prospective students are sure to find a school that is focused on what matters to them, whether it be renewable energy, recycling, clean transportation options, or other priority issues.

For other resources on evaluating sustainability in higher education, check out the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools list, the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, or the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System™ from the AASHE.

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About William R. DePhillipo

William R. DePhillipo is the founder of Green Energy Partners (GEP), a U.S.-based solar development company with a focus on commercial and utility scale projects throughout North America. GEP’s mission is to help clients realize savings through the production of clean energy while also reducing their carbon footprint. Prior to founding GEP, he served as a senior member of the development team at Conergy, a global solar photovoltaic downstream company.


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