Colleges appeal to students with green policies

Universities are touting green initiatives to draw eco-conscious students.
Universities are touting green initiatives to draw eco-conscious students.

Small private colleges and large research universities alike have adopted green policies in recent years in an effort to trim energy bills, encourage sustainability, and lure environmentally conscious students to their campuses. Now, a college counseling company has named five schools in particular as the most eco-friendly.

Such lists could carry weight among prospective students. In fact, nearly seven in 10 high school students surveyed by the Princeton Review last year said they would evaluate a college’s environmental policies and commitments before attending classes there. And with Earth Day approaching on April 22, schools are touting their green credentials in the annual springtime recruiting blitz.

IvyWise, a counseling company based in New York City and headed by admissions expert Katherine Cohen, released its list last week of schools that appeal to the greenest of prospective students: the University of Washington at Seattle, Arizona State University, Bates College, Emory University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, for example, was recognized for its Bates Bike Co-op, which gives participating students a bike lock key that can be used to unlock bikes kept in convenient spots across the campus. Students pay a $10 annual fee for Co-op membership, and with more than 90 percent of Bates students living on campus, the program has proven popular, with an anonymous donor giving a new fleet of bikes to the college in 2009.

Emory University in Atlanta made the IvyWise list based partly on its commitment to procure three-quarters of its food ingredients from sustainable sources by 2015. Emory—which launched a web site highlighting the campus’s green buildings and sustainability-related classes—offers a course in environmental journalism.

The IvyWise list of eco-friendly institutions also was based on a university’s natural surroundings, such as the mountainous terrain that attracts students to UC Boulder. Boulder Environmental Center, one of the country’s oldest of its kind, organizes student meetings that focus on a range of eco-friendly initiatives, including wildlife projects, ride sharing, efficiency, and earth education. The university also hosts the annual Conference on World Affairs, which draws environmental experts from across the globe.

Higher-education officials said establishing and publicizing green programs and curriculum can help prospective students make a final decision after spending months weighing their college options for the following year.

Jeannie Matheison, a sustainability advisor at the University of Idaho’s Sustainability Center, said course offerings that reflect an acute awareness of environmental issues such as climate change and food shortages can be a long-term recruiting tool for admissions offices.

Idaho’s Sustainability Center has funded almost $200,000 in two native vegetation gardens, a rainwater harvest garden, a green roof, multiple recycling initiatives, composting of university food and farm waste, and other initiatives in recent years, according to the center’s web site.

“I think university policies that infuse sustainability throughout the institution’s operating systems attract students from all over,” Matheison said, adding that the Sustainability Center has gotten more than 2,500 student involved in green projects like the “Get Rooted” project, which aims to repopulate the surrounding area with native trees and shrubs. “When they learn we’re recycling and composting … I think that’s really appealing to an environmentally-minded student.”

Last fall, the university began composting its dining hall waste, rather than throwing it away. The initiative is expected to reduce food waste by 90 percent, with up to 100 tons of waste being composted every year.

The IvyWise list is just one of the country’s annual rankings of environmentally-friendly colleges and universities. The latest College Sustainability Report Card was released in October, drawing from 332 college responses and totaling 10,000 pages of data about schools’ green efforts.

Despite operating budget shortfalls across higher education last year—average endowment values dropped by 23 percent last year, according to the Report Card—eco-friendly policies have remained a centerpiece for most colleges surveyed.

“Surprising the skeptics, most schools we surveyed did not let financial reversals undermine their green commitments,” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the organization that compiles the annual report. “New financial realities encouraged saving money by adopting environmentally friendly innovations.”

Along with its surveying of green-conscious students, the Princeton Review publishes an annual Green Ratings. The ratings system ranks more than 600 colleges and universities, and designates institutions that receive the highest Green Rating. The 2010 honor roll includes Yale University, Harvard College, the University of New Hampshire, and Bates College.

“The ‘green’ movement on college campuses is far more than an Earth Day recycling project,” Robert Franek, vice president and publisher of the Princeton Review, said in an announcement. “It is growing tremendously among students and administrators alike. … Many have shown extraordinary commitments to environmental issues and to the environment in their practices and programs.”


Princeton Review Green Ratings

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