Environment

The Top Ten 'Greenest' Schools

Here are the top 10 colleges and universities that are doing the most to protect the environment.
Not long ago small private colleges had a near monopoly on campus environmental initiatives in the United States. But today, supersize public universities are nipping at the nimble, hemp-shod heels of those pioneers by adopting green building standards, expanding environmental studies programs and converting fleets to zero-emission vehicles. This represents a dramatic shift even from last year, when Sierra ran its first "Cool Schools" roundup and filled all but two of the top 10 spots with private colleges. In the following pages, you'll find a diverse mix of institutions -- from North Carolina's 850-student Warren Wilson College to Arizona State University, the country's second-largest school with 51,500 students.

The top schools earned points in 10 categories: policies for building, energy, food, investment, procurement and transportation; curriculum; environmental activism; waste management; and overall commitment to sustainability. A perfect score in every area would give a school 100 points.

Like every ranking system, ours is imperfect. To be sure, dozens more schools deserve praise. But after weeks of reporting and analysis, we're confident we picked the nation's environmental leaders.

That said, you might ask why the Eco League colleges and the University of California system -- two environmentally proactive institutions -- don't rank on this list. Schools in the Eco League consortium, which focuses solely on environmental studies, hardly play on a level field with schools that serve students in 150 degree programs. Meanwhile, the 10 campuses of the UC system -- neither wholly independent nor entirely unified -- could not in fairness be compared as separate institutions. Sierra decided to feature them separately as "Shining Stars".

If you're excited about or frustrated with initiatives on your campus or convinced we've missed a great green school, you can vent or brag in the comments section. We hope you'll join the conversation -- so we can make next year's list even better.
-- Lea Hartog

The Top 10 Schools

1. Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt.: 2,350 students

Another college with Middlebury's record might have taken it easy on green initiatives this year. After all, Midd's outdoorsy intellectuals had already earned recognition for such ambitious projects as recycling materials from a demolished building. But the school pressed on, giving its study-abroad program a shot of green last fall: A partnership with a renewable energy company makes it easy for students to offset carbon dioxide emissions associated with travel. More important, the Panthers now learn how to leave a lighter footprint on their excursions, and study-abroad students can win $500 grants to research environmental solutions like geothermal power in their adopted countries.

Highlight
Energy: A wind turbine supplies 25 percent of the campus recycling center's energy; a new power plant fueled by wood chips from a local willow farm could halve fuel-oil use. Waste: Sites for swapping goods encourage reuse. The campus recycles 60 percent of its waste.

Lowlight
Investments: Despite creating a committee on ethical investing policies and a fund to support initiatives like environmental research and green campus buildings, Midd's trustees do not disclose information about current investments.

If you go: Track down author Bill McKibben. He directs a fellowship program that brings environmental journalists to campus.

Score: 93

2. University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colo.: 29,000 students

Eight years ago the University of Colorado (CU) became the first U.S. university to buy renewable energy credits. Today the mile-high school supports local offset projects. CU does more than buy its way out of carbon guilt, however.

Highlight
Transportation: Tuition covers city bus passes and loaner bikes. Most campus shuttles, or Buff Buses, run on biodiesel. Curriculum: Students work at the forefront of climate and ocean studies through the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

Lowlight
Energy: Only 7 percent of the school's energy comes from renewables; 85 percent comes from natural gas and the rest mostly from coal.

If you go: Consider spending a semester studying ecology and conservation in Quito, Ecuador. You'll spend time in a cloud forest reserve and at a women's artisan cooperative.

Score: 91.5

3. University of Vermont at Burlington, Burlington, Vt.: 10,750 students

Don't know which lightbulb to buy? If you lived on campus at the University of Vermont, home of the Catamounts, you'd know whom to ask. Dorm volunteers offer fellow students green guidance.

Highlight
Food: Buys 35 percent of dining-hall food from local farmers. Energy: Supplies 60 percent of campus power needs with renewable energy. Waste: Composts more than 20 tons of waste each month. Transportation: Students and faculty ride free on biodiesel-powered shuttles.

Lowlight
Investments: Recently created a socially responsible investments committee but hasn't implemented its policies.

If you go: Rent discounted snowshoes, telemark skis or a canoe from the UVM Outing Club.

Score: 91

4. Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, N.C.: 850 students

Forgoing football games and frats, Warren Wilson's Fighting Owls work 15 hours per week plowing the college's organic fields or helping with eco-friendly building projects.

Highlight
Offsets: Purchased renewable energy credits that offset 100 percent of campus electricity use.

Lowlight
Investments: No transparency or reported sustainable-investing policies.

If you go: Stop by the Cow Pie Cafe, a student-run vegetarian eatery that serves mostly foods grown on campus.

Score: 88.5

5. Evergreen State College, Olympia, Wash.: 4,400 students

Evergreen first made headlines for getting rid of grades and majors in the 1970s. Now the college creates buzz with its environmental policies, which include a mandate that all new building projects comply with silver-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Less than a quarter of students use their intercity bus passes (included with tuition) to get to school, but new bus shelters with solar-powered lighting may help them get jazzed about public transit.

Highlight
Student activism: At least nine campus organizations take on environmental and social justice issues.

Lowlight
Investments: No transparency or reported sustainable-investing policies.

Score: 88

6. Arizona State University at Tempe, Tempe, Ariz.: 51,500 students

With the nation's second-largest student population, Arizona State University can make a big impact with small changes. Although the Sun Devils have not switched entirely to xeriscaping with native plants, they have phased out wasteful flood irrigation from more than 70 percent of the campus and now water most of the grounds at night. Last fall ASU inaugurated its School of Sustainability, where students learn about -- and create -- land-use and urban-planning models that minimize harm to the environment.

Highlight
Waste: Partnered with a nearby farm to compost organic waste. Purchasing policy: Requires paper products to have at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled content

Lowlight
Energy: Although it intends to buy carbon offsets, ASU has not drafted a plan to reduce its carbon footprint.

Score: 87

7. University of Florida at Gainesville, Gainesville, Fla.: 50,000 students

With the 2007 national football and basketball championships under their belt, the Gators went on to become winners in environmental policy. A water facility processes 3 million gallons of reclaimed water per day and serves more than 90 percent of the campus. While most university fleet vehicles run on E85 ethanol (85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline), some chug along on used oil from campus cafeterias.

Highlight
Waste: Campus recovers 40 percent of its waste and aims to divert, reclaim or reuse 100 percent by 2015. Student activism: The last three student body presidents won with sustainability platforms. At least 15 student groups work on environmental issues. Green buildings: Two gold-LEED-certified structures, 32 silver-LEED-certified renovation projects.

Lowlight
Energy: Relies on a local utility that uses a mix of sources, including 40 percent coal. Investments: No transparency or sustainable-investing policies.

Score: 86

8. Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio: 2,200 students

Last spring Oberlin students competed in the Ecolympics to reduce their energy use and waste. Even in the Ecolympics off-season, they stay at it. Last fall eight students secured university funding for a new themed residence dedicated to green, energy-efficient living.

Highlight
Energy: Although half the school's energy comes from a local utility that relies primarily on coal, the campus now sources the other 50 percent from renewables.

Lowlight
Transportation: No free public transit; isolated location encourages students to use cars.

If you go: Take a class with David Orr, a Lyndhurst Prize winner best known for promoting environmental literacy in higher education.

Score: 85

9. University of Washington at Seattle, Seattle Wash.: 39,250 students

The home of the Huskies is one of the few universities whose overall energy use has decreased (by 10 percent between 2000 and 2005) despite campus growth. All the university's energy comes from renewable sources (including hydropower), and 14 buildings are slated for construction or renovation in compliance with LEED standards.

Highlight
Investments: Endowment funds support renewable energy and LEED-certified development projects.

Lowlight
Student activism: Environmental advocacy remains a fringe activity.

If you go: Sign up for courses in the College of Forest Resources -- many of them include field trips to the Pacific Northwest's awe-inspiring woodlands.

Score: 84

10. Tufts University, Medford, Mass.: 8,500 students

Often teased for being an Ivy League wannabe, Tufts surpassed its prestigious peers in environmental stewardship years ago. Recent eco-moves include joining a program that lets students help pay for renewable energy projects in Massachusetts through their electricity bills and creating a campus printing service that uses soy-based inks and recycled paper. Tufts is also publishing a new guide to campus life with an eco-map of places where students can find such greenery as free compact fluorescent lightbulbs, recycling bins and Zipcars.

Highlight
Investments: Created a $100 million microfinance fund for investments in developing countries. Overall commitment to sustainability: Developed the United States' first university-wide environmental policy in the 1990s. Originated the Talloires Declaration, an international campus sustainability agreement signed by more than 300 schools.

Lowlight
Transportation: With no subsidies for public transit in suburban Medford, the 50 percent of students living off campus receive no incentives to commute green.

If you go: Visit tuftslife.com to get the scoop from students on local activities.

Score: 82
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