My recollection of choosing a college involved basing my decision on a complicated personal algorithm, factoring in components like how much it would boost my ego to get in, how far away from home it would get me, how close it was to a metropolitan area that was “cooler” than the one I’d grown up in, and so on. When I went on campus visits, it was the mellifluous sound of famous alumnae names that sealed the deal: “HillaryRodhamClintonCokieRobertsMadeleineAlbrightDianeSawyerNoraEphron.”
Just hypothetically, had someone mentioned to me that a portion of the campus was powered by windmills, for instance, or that I had the option of working in a campus garden to provide organic produce to the dining hall, I might have thought it a charming side note that would likely appeal to the college’s more “hippie” segment.
But these days, sustainability is a major factor in college-aged kids’ decisions, so much so that The Princeton Review has released its newest guide to the greenest colleges in the United States. The guide, issued in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, is called The Princeton Review’s Guide to 311 Green Colleges, and can be downloaded free online. According to the guide, 69 percent of university applicants this year say that knowing their potential college was committed to environmental issues would contribute to their decision to apply to or attend that school.
Colleges chosen for this year’s guide, which lists 25 more schools than last year, were selected based on factors such as how much local food is served, how much waste is diverted from landfills, and whether transportation options like free bus passes or care shares are offered. Rachel Gutter, director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools, told USA Today that students are very savvy consumers who are increasingly making their decisions based on a thorough understanding of sustainability.
Among notable programs, the article highlighted how College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, now factors the travel mileage of prospective students into the carbon debt it must offset to remain carbon-neutral. It also described how students at Elon University in North Carolina can monitor energy and water consumption in real time on a touch screen (one of the first stops on campus tours), and also how prospective students of Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC, can take a Green Walkabout that leads them to the Eco Dorm, a farm and recycling center. And though campuses may be using the initiatives for bragging rights, Warren Wilson’s vice president of admission Richard Blomgren said that most programs it has instituted over the last decade have actually been student-driven.
What are some of the most creative college sustainability programs you’ve heard of lately? I’ll say now that 20-plus years later, sustainability would weigh more heavily in my own decision; would it in yours?