Colleges in America Are Going Green

August 2014

Let’s face it.  Going green is in.  Not only are more Americans changing to eco-friendly ways at home and work, but schools are getting in on protecting our planet.  In fact, many of America’s colleges are not only inspiring students to learn about caring for our environment, they are taking initiatives in changing the colleges themselves to be more eco-friendly.

Most colleges and universities, big and small, are going way beyond recycling and have begun installing solar panels and green roofs, while others have started organic farms and planting organic gardens.  Whatever they choose to do the goal is the same – to take care of our environment by creating sustainable practices on the college campus as a whole.

According to the latest research from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, about 1,000 colleges and universities around the country are working hard at making their facilities, practices, and curriculums environmentally conscious and sustainable. 

A recent poll by The Princeton Review showed that around 69 percent of students consider a school’s sustainability commitment when making their decision about where to attend college.  This number has increased by five percent since 2008.  Even though financial aid and academics still rank higher, The Princeton Review reported that prospective students are more likely to consider sustainability than ever before. 

One of the ways schools are going green is by constructing LEED certified buildings.  LEED certification is a recognized standard for buildings that meet certain sustainable criteria, like minimizing water and electricity consumption.

The University of Portland in Portland, Oregon, became a national leader in green construction after building Swindells Hall, the schools science building which was made bricks, metals and recycled glass.  The building has sustainably harvested wood, state of the art lighting and windows, low toxicity paint, and a high efficient heating and cooling system.  At the time it was being built, Swindells Hall was the first science building in the country designed that way.  The University of Portland wanted to prove they were committed towards living the right way to protect the environment. 

The Swindells Hall building includes 300,000 pounds of wide-flanged steel, made from 100 percent recyclable scrap metal.  The brick is made of 10 percent recycled material.  The carpeting uses odorless adhesives rather than toxic solvents.  The bulletin board fabric is made from recycled soda bottles and the wood cabinets faces are 100 percent sustainably grown maple.  Electronic sensors help control lighting and an indirect evaporative cooling system pulls outside air to reduce air conditioning demands. 

Since then, the University’s plan is to become carbon-neutral by 2040.  They have been installing energy saving solar panels on older buildings and replacing older fixtures and windows with more efficient ones.

The staff and faculty at the University also extend their education efforts out in the community by hosting sustainability meetings, conferences, and speakers on the environment, with a goal of teaching their students and the community to become world changers.

All of the new buildings at Santa Clara University located in Santa Clara, California, have earned “LEED Gold” ratings from the U.S. Green Building Council.  The buildings also come equipped with light sensors and water-saving systems such as waterless urinals and low shower fixtures.  When it comes to landscaping, the University only uses recycled water.

Santa Clara University also offers more than 200 courses related to environmental issues, ranging from literature to engineering to psychology.

Another college whose core is comprised of environmental sustainability is Warren Wilson College located in Swannanoa, North Carolina.  The College is a leader in green building and design.  The school just about supports itself, getting their lumber and food from the University’s own gardens and managed forests.  In fact, their chainsaws even use soy oil!

The vehicles at Warren Wilson College run on biodiesel.  They also use solar-charged carts and hybrids.  The College streetlamps are solar-powered and low light pollution.

Warren Wilson’s EcoDorm, built in 2003, was the first college building to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s (LEED) highest rating, the Platinum certification, for existing buildings.

The students at Warren Wilson are experts at recycling and composting.  They also have access to a “free store,” where used items find new life.

The University of New Hampshire in Durham, North Hampshire is the first major University to power their heating, cooling, and electricity with renewable resources by creating a landfill gas-to-energy project.  The University’s EcoLine uses landfill gas as its primary fuel source, which powers up to 85 percent of the campuses electricity and heat. 

Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, has a 1,000 acre campus consisting of 800 acres of woods, forest and saltwater beach.  Their beautiful plants and gardens surround a 13 acre organic farm with compost facility included that the school uses to teach courses like organic agriculture.  The organic produce that is grown there is also served around the campus eateries.  Twice a week, the organic food is also sold at the College’s on campus farm stand, but a majority of the food grown is donated to local food banks.

Evergreen State College buys 100 percent clean power, and uses electric vehicles around campus.  Their Seminar II building, equipped with a green roof and other efficiency features, is Gold LEED certified.  The College also offers students an abundance of hands-on opportunities to get down and dirty with organic farming, ecology, conservation and a lot more.

Emory University, located downtown in Atlanta, Georgia, has a monitor in each dorm lobby that shows how much water and electricity is being used in the building.  The toilets around campus are also almost all dual-flush.  The University also takes pride in their weekly sustainable food fairs, where local growers sell their products.  In fact, Emory has its own garden right in the middle of campus.  The University’s shuttles also run on oil collected from the kitchens of the dining locations around campus.

The College of the Atlantic located in beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine, lives and breathes sustainability.  The small school is home to only a few hundred students, all focused on one field, human ecology, which focuses on the relationship between humans and our planet.

The College of the Atlantic was the first college to go carbon neutral.  The campus is strongly committed to historic prevention, land conservation, green building, and toxin elimination.  Organic food, locally sourced, of course, is on the menu morning, noon, and night.  This college takes pride in being one of the leaders in teaching students to become future leaders in advocacy, ecology, and conservation.

Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, is located in a gorgeous mountain environment where outdoor activities are just boundless.  The University natural attracts staff, students, and faculty that already have an appreciation for our beautiful, natural environment.  Appalachian’s green practices has a history of opening their student’s eyes to the importance of sustainability.

Even though most students agree with implementing sustainability practices, some students wonder whether or not LEED certification and alternative fuel costs affect tuition and other College fees.  Most Colleges and Universities have already developed ways to fund their green initiatives.  Most of them rely on donations.  Others might charge a small fee per student.  At Appalachian State, there is a five dollar fee per student per semester for renewable energy installations.  Many Colleges and Universities that have implemented measures like energy efficient retrofits have been funded by the cost of the savings of the retrofit.  

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