Attention high school seniors (and your parents): You've got a big year ahead of you. Are you ready? Deciding where to spend the next four (or more) years of your life is not easy. College choice is no longer just about location, majors and cost — it's also about finding a setting that's aligned with your worldview. How green do you want your college to be?
Kaylon Brown, a senior at Freeport High School in Freeport, Maine, in 2009, wanted to go to a college where eco-consciousness is a priority — and things like composting, recycling, and energy conservation are the norm. "I want to be around nature-lovers and environmentalists," she said. "They are the people who care about healthy living and being outdoors, and that's something I'm really looking for in a school — people who care about what's around them."
Does such a place exist? Sure. Just take a look at Princeton Review's "Green Honor Roll," Sierra Magazine's list of the most eco-enlightened U.S. universities and The College Sustainability Report Card. We'll help you get started by highlighting some of the most eco-minded colleges in the country.
Green BuildingsMany schools have mandated that all new buildings meet LEED standards. The LEED green building rating system evaluates buildings based on a number of categories including water efficiency, use of on-site renewable energy, use of recycled materials and indoor environmental quality. To receive LEED certification, a building must score at least 40 (out of 100 possible) points. Platinum buildings must score 80 or above, gold buildings score between 60 and 79 and silver buildings score between 50 and 59.
The University of Colorado at Boulder requires all new construction to meet LEED gold standards, while new construction at schools like University of Washington, Dickinson College and NYU must meet LEED silver standards.
Some schools have already taken the LEED plunge: Harvard has 17 buildings with the LEED seal of approval, Willamette University and Northeastern University have LEED housing options and the University of Florida has the first platinum-certified football stadium in the country.
Alternative EnergyTaking advantage of its ridiculously sunny environs, Arizona State University has more solar panels than any other college campus in the country. UCLA has installed solar hot water heaters in most of its dorms and Colorado College has a 25-kilowatt solar array that has reduced the school's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by more than 37,000 kg since its installation in the spring of 2008.
Of course, the sun isn't the only source of alternative energy. The University of New Hampshire gets most of its energy from gas that is captured at a nearby landfill. At Middlebury College, fifty-percent of the fuel used to heat and cool buildings comes from the school's biomass gasification plant, while College of the Atlantic heats 20 percent of its campus using a wood pellet furnace.
Other Cool StuffMany schools, including Connecticut College, Ursinus College, Bowdoin College, Gettysburg College and Furman University, maintain their own organic gardens.
"The Neutral Gator Initiative," as it is cleverly called, is the University of Florida's attempt at achieving carbon neutral status. They plan to offset their athletic program's carbon footprint (estimated at 2,500 tons) by funding efforts to make nearby low-income homes more energy-efficient.
The University of New Hampshire offers a major in EcoGastronomy, which is the study of sustainable food. And...thirsty students at the University of Washington get to use the first compostable paper cup, which is being tested by the campus dining services.
What do you look for in an environmentally-friendly campus? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!