Sustainably Speaking

Colleges ‘green’ campuses

It’s that time of year: college students know their summer is about over and are planning to return to school in a few weeks. It’s especially exciting for college freshman. Hopefully they are going to their college of choice. As I remember, there’s a lot to consider when deciding what college is the best fit: academic offerings, athletics, social environment, tuition, living expenses, etc. And now you can add sustainability to the list.

According to Robert Franek, Princeton Review senior vice president/publisher, there is a rising interest among students in attending green colleges.

The Princeton Review partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council to publish its third annual Green Ratings of Colleges. The ratings are a measure of how sustainable colleges and universities are on a scale of 60 to 99. The Green Ratings include a Green Highlights section noting sustainable features of each school. New USGBC LEED construction, the percent of energy coming from renewable energy sources, environmental studies available, alternative transportation options, how much of the food budget is spent on organic/local food, waste diversion rate, etc., are noted in the Green Highlights section for each school that responded to the Green Rating survey.

I looked through the Green Ratings and realized that so many colleges and universities are at least taking a few if not many steps to build sustainable and teach students about sustainability. These schools stood out to me:

Arizona State University has a goal to be completely carbon neutral by 2025 and has proposed to provide more than 310,000-sq.ft. of solar panels on campus. At this time, ASU has 12 LEED-certified buildings, including the LEED Silver Global Institute of Sustainability. Click here to read about the renovation of ASU's former nursing building into the Global Institute of Sustainability. Click here for more information about ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Duke University has a Smart Home, a sustainable living laboratory, featuring a green roof, two solar power systems and two rainwater collection systems. Engineering students are able to learn from this living laboratory. At the moment, there are 16 LEED certified buildings and 10 LEED-registered buildings on campus. Click here to read about Duke’s sustainable initiatives.

Michigan State University is a signatory of the Chicago Climate Exchange, North America’s only cap and trade market for all six greenhouse gas emissions. MSU is required to lower its emissions by the benchmarks set or else pay fines. Last year, the university opened a recycling center and surplus store, which is expected to obtain LEED Silver status. The Chemistry Building is LEED Silver, the Federal Credit Union is LEED Gold, and the dairy barn is LEED Silver. The university is also creating a long range energy plan for the campus. Geothermal, wind generation, solar power and biomass fuels will be analyzed as potential energy sources. Click here to read about MSU’s sustainable initiatives.

The University of Florida has the goal to be a zero-waste campus by 2015 and carbon neutral campus by 2025. The university has 10 LEED certified buildings on campus and the first certified LEED Gold building in Florida. All new campus buildings will meet LEED Silver standards at a minimum, and the university has committed 32 buildings to go through the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance certification process. Click here to read about U of F’s sustainable initiatives.

Sustainability is not only for four-year colleges, many community colleges have environmental initiatives too. (Please note the Princeton Review’s Green Ratings only rates four-year colleges and universities.) Just the other day I read about Butte College, Oroville, Calif., which is on target to soon be the only college in the country to be grid positive.

The college has a 1.85 MW solar system, consisting of 10,000 solar panels and plans to add approximately 15,000 more PV panels to its current system by May 2011. The college will generate more than 6.381 million kW hours per year, which is the equivalent of removing 6,000 cars from roads. Click here to read more about Butte College’s sustainable initiatives.

Dr. Diana Van Der Ploeg, president of Butte College, credits the college's transformation to a national leader in sustainability due to student engagement both at the college and in the community, infusion of sustainability into the curriculum, workforce development focused on green jobs, LEED certified buildings, sustainable land use management, and operation of the largest community college student transportation system in California.

After reviewing Princeton Review’s Green Ratings of Colleges and reading about Butte College’s PV system, I’m quite sure green campuses are not just a trend or fad; green campuses will become the norm since interest in sustainability continues to increase across the board.

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