The Top 10 Greenest Colleges and Universities in the U.S.

During finals last winter at Northeastern University in Boston, students blew off steam playing Guitar Hero, producing the video game's juice with a pedal-powered generator. Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, handed incoming freshmen energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs along with their campus IDs. And collegians nationwide turned down thermostats; performed waste audits; and lobbied their schools to reduce energy use, provide healthier and organic food, and set a sustainable example for the rest of the world.

Many young people see environmental problems -- especially global warming -- as the challenge of their generation, and 400 college and university presidents have responded by signing a pledge to make their institutions carbon neutral. Students at almost 600 U.S. and Canadian schools are organizing around clean-energy solutions as part of the Campus Climate Challenge, a two-year-old campaign initiated by youth environmental groups (including the Sierra Student Coalition) that has added sass and sex appeal to a somber topic.

Along with condoms, student educators are passing out CFLs and sponsoring candlelit "Do It in the Dark" events. At the New School in New York City, an "I [Heart] Slutty Paper" campaign helped convince the college to switch from virgin paper (get it?) to 100 percent recycled stock in all campus computer labs. At both party schools and evangelical universities, competitions between dorms, Greek houses, and neighboring campuses to reduce energy and water use are yielding more than just bragging rights: The winning residence hall at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, for example, received an energy-efficient flat-screen TV.

The RecycleMania competition has been pitting colleges against each other for six years, with this year's grand champion, California State University San Marcos, recycling nearly 60 percent of its waste. Even MTV has gotten into the act, anointing student groups at Cornell and Rutgers Universities winners of its Break the Addiction Challenge for their climate-friendly campus activism.

All of this activity made picking our top ten U.S. campuses inspiring and exhausting. We looked at everything from colleges' clean-energy purchases and green-building policies to their bike facilities and the food served in their dorms. We checked out how many victories their Campus Climate Challenge group had won and whether organizations such as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education or the Sustainable Endowments Institute had lauded their efforts.

As the biggest purchasers and employers in many communities, colleges can create demand for ecofriendly services and products. High-profile schools have a bully pulpit -- and the financial resources -- to lead by example with their actions and investments. Research institutions are primed to develop technological solutions. And even small community colleges are educating tomorrow's leaders. If students start their adult lives in a culture of sustainability, they just might take that ethos with them wherever they go.

The List

1. Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH (2,800 students)

Oberlin College's environmental accomplishments are music to a tree hugger's ears. A third of the food served in its dining halls is produced locally, the school hosts the first car-sharing program in Ohio, student activity fees subsidize public transportation, and half of its electricity comes from green sources. A real-time monitoring system tracks 17 dorms and displays how much juice all those laptops, blenders, and iPod chargers are burning at any moment. Last spring Oberlin held its first ecofriendly commencement, with biodegradable utensils and programs printed on 100 percent recycled paper.

2. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (20,000 students)

This Ivy League exemplar is a front-runner in getting the most structures certified by or registered for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. A $12 million loan fund provides interest-free financing for ecofriendly projects -- such as installing motion-sensor lights in classrooms and converting a recycling truck to run on waste vegetable oil from one of the dining halls. Such efforts generate enough savings to pay back the loan.

3. Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC (850 students)

This small Southeast star wears its environmental ethos on its sleeve and backs it up with a sustainably managed farm, garden, and forest that provide food and lumber for the campus; streetlamps that reduce light pollution; and community service as an integral part of the curriculum.

4. University of California system (10 locations, 214,000 students)

When one of the richest state's largest employers approves a system-wide green policy, the benefits are going to be big. The University of California has pledged to generate ten megawatts of renewable power by 2014, increase use of low- to zero-emission vehicles by 50 percent by 2010, and achieve zero waste by 2020 at its ten campuses. While UC Davis improves its agricultural sustainability, UCLA fights gridlock with a bicycle master plan that has increased ridership by 50 percent. The newest campus, UC Merced, received the second-highest LEED rating for its first building complex; the oldest, UC Berkeley, has a certified organic kitchen in one of its dining halls and a new major in society and environment.

5. Duke University, Durham, NC (12,800 students)

The Blue Devils are turning green, mandating certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for all new construction, improving on-campus bike trails, collecting 17 types of recyclables, and pouring money into wind and small hydropower projects.

6. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT (2,400 students)

The school that spawned the national Step It Up protests against global warming is all about energy -- in both senses of the word. Students lobbied hard for the $11 million biomass plant now being built, which will be a big player in making Middlebury College carbon neutral by 2016. They've also convinced residence halls to lower their thermostats two degrees in the winter; exchanged more than 2,000 incandescent lightbulbs for energy-efficient ones; and worked with the college's ski facility, the Snow Bowl, to offset its carbon dioxide emissions. Wood used in on-campus construction comes from sustainable, local forestry operations, and a ten-kilowatt wind turbine provides power to Middlebury's recycling facility, which has helped divert more than 55 percent of the college's waste since 1994.

7. Berea College, Berea KY (1,600)

The first interracial and coeducational college in the South is staying ahead on environmental issues too. Berea College is perhaps best known (at least in sustainable circles) for its Ecovillage, a housing complex for students and their families that incorporates passive-solar design elements, heavy-duty insulation, efficient appliances and fixtures, and rainwater collection. The ideals of the Ecovillage are reflected throughout this progressive Christian college, from the dining-hall menus that feature campus-raised produce and meat to the new solar array on the roof of the Alumni Memorial Building.

8. Pennsylvania State University, (24 locations, 83,700 students)

This Big Ten school gets big props for committing to a system-wide goal of LEED certification of all new buildings, a $10 million annual investment in retrofitting and efficiency, and a 17.5 percent decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012.

9. Tufts University, Medford MA (8,800 students)

Home of the first university environmental policy in the country, this OG (original green) school keeps itself current with solar panels on its newest residence hall, energy-saving motion sensors on campus vending machines, and an electric tractor to mow its organically tended baseball field.

10. Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA (10,000 students)

You'd expect innovation from a school renowned for its tech programs, and Carnegie Mellon University delivers with student-designed green roofs on several buildings, what it claims was the country's first ecofriendly dorm, and a collaborative research center with a modular raised-floor system that doubles the amount of fresh air circulating in the building.


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