In a world that is quickly transforming due to global warming, sustainability has never been more important. Sustainability, in the simplest terms, is the ability to exist. For humanity today, that means doing everything we can to preserve the world we live in for future generations, and not deplete the resources that civilizations need to maintain our modern way of life.
In the wake of irreversible damage that climate change has already done to the planet, many learning institutions recognize the need for sustainability and have gotten on board to do their part. There are now an abundance of degree programs and courses teaching sustainable architecture, economics, public policy, sociology, agriculture and lots of other interdisciplinary fields incorporating sustainability. Besides having more sustainability-focused curricula, many colleges have begun implementing simple innovative practices to make their campuses more eco-friendly, like growing vegetable gardens to reduce the carbon emissions from food transportation, or using more sustainable building structures, like natural ventilation or energy-efficient lighting. But some universities have gone further. These schools, the greenest campuses in the US, have made formidable, impressive changes to turn their campuses into efficient and cost-effective sustainable systems. Here is a list of the top 8 most sustainable college campuses in America leading the way in the struggle to preserve the planet.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
UNC-Chapel Hill’s biggest claim to fame is its platinum-certified Botanical Gardens Education Center, which is used to collect and filter rainwater and store it for future irrigation use. This university launched its Three Zeroes Initiative in 2016 with the goal of achieving water neutrality, zero waste and greenhouse gas neutrality. UNC Chapel Hill also features geothermal walls, a renowned botanical garden, and solar panels, which are responsible for generating eight percent of the energy the school uses a year.
Stanford University optimizes all its operations for environmental efficiency, with emission reduction infrastructure and an energy and climate plan to reduce energy intensity and save water. It also has a recycling program that diverts 65 percent of solid waste from landfills.
Fort Collins, Colorado
This public university built the first-ever solar-heated, air-conditioned building. It owns a tree nursery that produces 2 million new seedlings every year. Colorado State works alongside NASA to monitor climate change by studying clouds. It’s Greenhouse Gas Management and Accounting Program course one of the most cutting-edge sustainability courses. The university plans to have the campus running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Clean buses, bikes, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, divert 75 percent of wastes, sustainable foodservice provides for 20 percent of all food. UC Davis is home to a 100-acre botanical garden of trees, which comes in handy for the many environmental studies programs it offers.
Ithica, New York
64 percent of waste at Cornell University is recycled or used in compost. Cornell emphasizes sustainability in its academia with its climate change literacy program targetting every student and staff member. It also uses an incentive system for reusing water bottles that awards redeemable points to students who refill bottles instead of buying plastic water bottles with the aim of decreasing the amount of plastic in local landfills. The Cornell campus aims to reach carbon neutrality and 100 percent reliance on renewable energy and geothermal technology in 2035.
Syracuse, New York
SUNY-ESF is America’s only school where all of its academic programs are oriented toward the environment. Recognized as a bike-friendly university and was named leadership status in the REV Challenge, a clean energy initiative for New York state colleges. SUNY-ESF has a multitude of unique campus policies directed at conserving natural resources, including their Reduced Mercury Light Bulb Purchasing Policy, Erosion & Sedimentation Policy, and College Sustainable Cleaning Products Purchasing Policy.
Dickinson College supports its dining services with an organic farm. It has a partnership with the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, a nationally recognized organization that addresses water quality issues. Dickinson has one of the most bicycle-friendly campuses. The college has pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2020, and tracks its progress using an energy dashboard for the college’s carbon emissions.
Colby College achieved carbon neutrality in 2013. All of the electricity it purchases is from hydro, wind, and biomass. In 2012, the college constructed a biomass boiler that produces 90 percent of the campus’s demand for steam, including for heat, hot water, cooking, and cogeneration of electricity. Colby College also has geothermal buildings, which use geothermal energy to heat and cool the buildings depending on the season.
Bar Harbor, Maine
COA became the first carbon-neutral college in 2007. With its energy-efficient buildings, its off-campus organic farm, and its recycling and composting program, the College of the Atlantic is unquestionably one of the most environmentally committed campuses in the country. COA also offers a solar charger that is free for the public to use.
UCI is leading the nation in clean transportation with the country’s first all-electric bus fleet; 46 percent of UCI fleet vehicles are powered by alternative fuel. UC Irvine has 18 clean-energy buildings, more than any other US campus. Thanks to its achievements in food and waste management and water conservation projects, the campus saves almost 90 million gallons of water a year. UCI’s zero-emission landscape maintenance which replaces gasoline-powered equipment with cordless electric products, slashing an annual 26.7 metric tons of carbon emissions.
These incredible universities have gone above and beyond to create sustainable campuses and combat climate change. You don’t have to attend one of the top 10 most sustainable college campuses to live an eco-conscious life at your university. There are many small things you can do to live sustainably in college, such as using LED light bulbs, (they’re longer-lasting), unplugging or powering down your electronic devices when you’re not using them, recycling your paper and plastic trash, purchasing reusable bags and water bottles, and checking the labels of products you buy for environmentally responsible brands. Even the simplest things you can do, like shutting the lights off when you leave a room, can really add up. Walk or bike to cut down on gasoline. Spend less time in the shower to conserve water. Taking notes electronically instead of using a notebook saves paper. Becoming aware that practically every action we take impacts the environment is the first step to making a difference.