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Consumer Report

By: Megan Nichols

With the election season dominating the media recently, you don’t hear a lot about sustainability efforts on the news these days. That doesn’t mean they aren’t happening. From their solar-powered planes to rooftop panels designed to capture more sunlight than ever, many companies have been working with researchers to “go green” as part of their ongoing commitment to preserve the planet.

College campuses are no exception. For the seventh year in a row, The Princeton Review has released its 2016 Green College Honor Roll, a list of 24 colleges with a “green rating” of 99 (on a scale from 60 to 99). The green rating, which measures how “environmentally aware and prepared” an institution is based on several factors, including:

● Whether students on campus have a healthy, sustainable quality of life
● The extent that the school is preparing students for employment in a 21st-century economy committed to clean energy
● How responsible the campus’s policies are from an environmental perspective

Additionally, most of the colleges included in the Green Honor Roll have achieved a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for one or more of their buildings. LEED is a measurement system that evaluates how sustainable a particular structure is. Buildings that are LEED-certified are more energy efficient, use less water and emit fewer greenhouse gases than other buildings.

Which college campuses made it into the honor roll this year? Here’s a sampling of six of them, in no particular order.

1. American University (Washington, D.C.)

Image of American University campus with students walking around and sitting on lawn
(Photo source: American University)

American University (AU)’s sustainability efforts have been no less than impressive. The campus has developed the Green Teaching Certification Program, an initiative that rewards professors for adding sustainability topics to their curriculums. AU boasts three full-time and 25 part-time staff devoted to incorporating sustainability projects across campus, including green construction.

Currently, 25 buildings on campus are involved in a LEED Volume Existing Building certification project, and the goal is to achieve LEED certification for most of institution’s buildings. In that vein, the college recently installed more than 2,150 solar panels on six of its buildings, making it the largest solar energy system in Washington. Additionally, hot showers for more than 2,000 students are powered by 174 solar energy panels that AU installed in four residential halls.

2. Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

Birds eye view of Cornell University
(Photo source: Cornell University)

Cornell University has more to brag about than its Ivy League status. The institution has demonstrated its commitment to green living and education, with more than 400 course offerings — and 28 major concentrations — for the study of sustainability topics. Cornell has also reduced its carbon emissions by 32 percent since 2008, and the school has invested $46 million in energy conservation in its effort to become completely carbon-neutral by 2050.

Cornell also handles more than 46 percent of its waste products, including 550 tons of food products from its dining hall, by recycling or composting it. The campus currently includes one building with a Platinum LEED certification (the highest rating) and eight with a Gold certification. Cornell’s policy for new construction is to ensure that all future buildings achieve at least a Silver LEED rating and a status of being more energy-efficient than national standards.

3. Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA)

Dickinson College
(Photo source: Dickinson College)

Nestled in a quaint, historic town in central Pennsylvania, Dickinson College has won national recognition for its widespread sustainability efforts. One of the first colleges to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), Dickinson has incorporated a Climate Action Plan in its effort to be climate neutral by 2020.

In addition, all of the institution’s buildings that have been built since 2008 have achieved a LEED status of Gold or higher. Dickinson students are actively engaged in sustainability activities, participating in programs such as the Dickinson Organic Farm, Center for Sustainability Education and the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring.

4. University of California — Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

Dorm building of University of California
(Photo source: University of California – Berkeley)

Don’t forget the universities out west. University of California — Berkeley also won a spot on the Green College Honor Roll. The university has its own Climate Action Plan, managed by the Office of Sustainability, which monitors progress made toward reducing energy emissions and water usage.

In fact, Berkeley has already invested $25 million in energy-efficiency initiatives and established the Cal Climate Action Partnership, a group of faculty, staff and students committed to getting emissions down to where they were in 1990.

Impressively, the institution has reached that goal as of 2012. Berkeley has also made a commitment to ensuring that all new construction projects and building renovations achieve LEED certification. Much of the student housing across the University of California system has already received a LEED Platinum rating, including the Charles David Keeling Apartments at the University of California — San Diego.

These buildings use industrial fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) grating, which is sustainable because it keeps the structures cool without causing solar heat gain and it’s resistant to rust, rotting and decay.

5. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)

Outside of Georgia Institute of Technology, students walking around campus
(Photo source: Georgia Institute of Technology)

College campuses in the southern states are going green, too. Not only does Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) boast one of the largest photovoltaic rooftop solar systems in the world — it’s also home to the world’s largest residence hall to achieve a LEED Gold certification.

The university recently constructed a new freshman science building that far exceeds sustainability standards, an impressive feat given the complications of certification for buildings that store hazardous chemicals. The science building includes green labs, photovoltaic solar panels, solar thermal and a garden roof, among other energy-efficient features.

Georgia Tech also houses the Strategic Energy Institute, the Institute for Sustainable Systems and the Sustainable Design and Manufacturing Center, all of which — with their 30 research centers — devote themselves to energy efficiency. To encourage its students to be passionate about the environment, the college offers more than 350 courses that focus on sustainability.

6. Smith College (Northampton, MA)

Image of Smith College
(Photo source: Smith College)

Smith College is another institution that has received recognition for achieving LEED Gold certification on its new science and engineering building, Ford Hall. In addition, the college has said that all future construction will aim for a LEED Silver rating or better. Solar panels have been installed on several of Smith’s current buildings, including the Campus Center and science buildings.

The school also generates power from a high-efficiency, natural-gas cogeneration plant that provides 70 percent of electricity on campus. Both students and faculty are committed to sustainability and participate in green efforts through programs such as PRAXIS and the Smith Summer Research Fellows. Smith College’s goal is to achieve an entirely carbon-neutral campus by 2030.

With all the advances in green technology and a widespread commitment to sustainability, it’s an exciting time to be a college student. From sustainability courses to energy-efficiency committees and new LEED-certified buildings, students are becoming more aware than ever about the negative effects of gas emissions on the environment. If you’re not in college, you can still do your part to assist the cause. Even if it’s just paying more attention to your recycling habits, every little bit counts toward fighting climate change.

About the Author:

megannicholsMegan Nichols is the editor of Schooled by Science. She enjoys writing about the latest innovations in technology and science.


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  1. Hello,

    I work at ALLARM, or the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring at Dickinson College, and wanted to let you know about a minor typo, our organization is resource monitoring, singular, as opposed to resources, as is stated here. Thanks in advance for correcting!


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