Obviously, financial factors trump most everything else when it comes to how a person selects a college or university for undergraduate or graduate study. But I know that many of my friends' college-age teenagers are looking at the green credentials for the schools they are considering. Things like whether or not the dorms use green energy, the campus impact on water management, the use of technology to extend classes beyond the physical classroom, and whether or not there is smart transportation to help students get around the campus and surrounding environs.
If you are interested in matters of campus operational sustainability, I recommend you consult a list organized and certified by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The STARS ranking, which stands for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, recognizes institutions that have put a high priority on these things. Of course, you have to apply for the rating, so it might not include universities or colleges that simply haven't bothered. But you get the idea.
So far, there 245 schools in the United States and Canada are participating in the STARs rating program. The schools are responsible for submitting data over the course of a year, focused on their activities in several areas: operations, education and research, planning, administration and engagement. The system looks both at internal results as well as how a school performs compared with its peers. So far, 34 of the schools have managed a rating (which come at the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels).
For a deeper understanding of what it takes, consider the example of New York University, which just received a Gold STARS rating. Here are some of the achievements that helped the university earn its rating:
- A self-reported carbon dioxide emissions reduction of more than 40 percent (ahead of target)
- The creation of Climate Action Plan that calls for the school to become carbon neutral by 2040.
- The renovation of its cogeneration plant, which produces twice the power of the old technology, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent. The upgrade could help the university save up to $8 million annually.
- A program to encourage local, organic or fair trade certifications for the food served in NYU dining halls and catered events. Right now, approximately one-third of all food expenditures are from items sourced within 250 miles of the campus.
- A bus fleet upgrade that is replacing diesel models with hybrid electric ones.
There are 34 universities in the initial bunch that have received ratings. They aren't all household names, by any stretch, which proves some schools are making a niche for themselves through sustainability. The early STARS include:
- American University
- Babson College
- College of Lake County
- DePauw University
- Delta Collect
- Duke University
- Earlham College
- Estrella Mountain Community College
- Furman University
- Goshen College
- Grand Valley State University
- Indiana University Bloomington
- Kankakee Community College
- Middlebury College
- Moraine Valley Community College
- New York University
- Orange County Community College
- Oregon State University
- Pacific Lutheran University
- Royal Roads University
- Santa Clara University
- State University of New York at Fredonia
- University of Colorado, Boulder
- University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
- University of Florida
- University of Houston - University Park
- University of Illinois, Chicago
- University of Louisville
- University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
- University of South Florida
- University of Texas at Arlington
- University of Texas at Austin
- Wake Forest University
- Wilfrid Laurier University