Top Eco-Friendly Colleges in the U.S.

By Allyson Koerner 

Are you currently deciding which college is right for you? If so, choosing the perfect school means taking a look at the majors and activities they offer, the college’s location, along with how much tuition you can realistically afford. But have you ever thought about whether a college is sustainable? When filling out your college applications, consider whether your top choices benefit the environment. Many of today’s colleges and universities are transforming into eco-friendly schools. Here are our choices for the best sustainable colleges in the nation. 

1. Allegheny College 

“Working toward a sustainable campus. Working toward a sustainable world.”
-Allegheny College’s Sustainability Initiative 

Allegheny College, located in Meadville, Pa., has incorporated sustainability into its mission to become environmentally friendly campus-wide and throughout its surrounding community. Allegheny educates students about sustainability through academics, internships and student organizations. The campus is also dedicated to its composting programs, which processes 800 to 900 pounds of food, paper and plastic a day. Most importantly, Allegheny is committed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified construction guaranteeing all new buildings will be at the LEED® Silver level. The campus is further dedicated to the global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, purchasing 15 percent of its energy from wind sources. 

2. California State University, Chico State 

We strive to become leaders in achieving a new vision of education, which integrates the principles of sustainable development into the academic programs, practices, and collaborations of our university.”
-Institute for Sustainable Development 

California has many schools dedicated to the environment, but California State University, Chico State (CSU, Chico) goes above and beyond to remain sustainable. Located in Chico, Calif., the university is one of the first campuses in the nation to sign a commitment to become climate neutral. The campus also incorporates sustainability into its curriculum and academic programs and has “Green Courses,” including Energy Alternatives in Agriculture and Environmental Toxicology. CSU, Chico promotes eco-friendliness through encouraging alternative methods of transportation like walking, biking and carpooling. Through the school’s recycling program, the campus now has more than 1,800 receptacles collecting almost 600,000 pounds of waste annually. The school even has research centers such as the University Farm, an 800-acre outdoor classroom where students can use what they learn in the classroom. CSU, Chico shows a strong commitment to “balancing human, social, cultural and economic needs with the natural environment.” 

3. Middlebury College 

“At Middlebury, sustainability is about more than our renewable energy projects and ‘green’ buildings. It is an integral part of how we teach, work, and play.”
-Middlebury Sustainability

The oldest undergraduate environmental studies program in the country is at Middlebury College, in Middlebury, Vt., a school strongly committed to eco-friendliness. The college has set goals for carbon neutrality, renewable energy, greening athletics and increasing access to local foods in dining halls. It has already achieved the title of the first carbon neutral ski area in the U.S. from the National Ski Area Association. The LEED Platinum Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest is the center for brainstorming ideas and actions about sustainability. It is home to the Sustainability Integration Office and Environmental Studies program. The campus also includes eco-friendly dining services providing food from local vendors and fresh produce from the student-run organic garden. The school encourages the campus community to ride buses, Zipcars and bikes from the student-run bike shop for transportation. The school continues to set future environmentally friendly goals such as reaching carbon neutrality by 2016.                                                                                                    

4. University of Florida 

“Students, faculty and staff across campus are working hard to incorporate sustainability into their personal and professional lives.”
-University of Florida’s Sustainability Initiative 

As part of its sustainable education, the University of Florida (UF) has a variety of green academic research centers such as the Florida Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Water Institute. Located in Gainesville, Fla., UF has more than 110 courses in relation to sustainability. The UF campus was even named one of the Top 10 Vegetarian Friendly Schools by PETA in 2006 and 2007. In 2001, UF incorporated LEED standards for all major new constructions and renovation projects. The school now requires LEED-Gold certification for all new building projects.  Currently, the campus features one Platinum, two Gold and two Silver LEED certified buildings. The campus also has 31 conservation areas, a carbon neutral athletic program, and two campus-wide recycling programs for food and electronic waste. UF now recycles more than 6,500 tons of material annually. To continue on the road of sustainability, UF has set goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2025 and of having Zero Waste by 2015. 

5. Aquinas College 

The Center for Sustainability at Aquinas College is dedicated to the development and advancement of organizations and communities that promote economic viability, natural world kinship, and social responsibility.”
-Mission Statement of Aquinas College 

Aquinas College, located in Grand Rapids, Mich., is dedicated to sustainability and shows this campus-wide through its Center for Sustainability – an organization that provides information about sustainable practices. The center is the first institution in the U.S. to offer undergraduate degrees in sustainable business. The college’s sustainability initiative hopes to improve the health of natural systems, enhance the quality of life of its community and increase long-term financial stability of the college. Throughout the campus, the student and facility community is encouraged to recycle, not only food waste, but also electronic waste through its “E-Waste Not, E-Want Not” program. The campus continues to take steps forward in sustainability by encouraging the construction of LEED certified buildings, implementing a Locally-Grown program into dining services and installing new paper towel dispensers with “Ecosoft” towels made from 100 percent recycled content and Green Seal certified. The new dispensers reduce paper towel use by 15 to 20 percent. 

Whether you’re a student or a parent pondering schools for this year or next, consider colleges like these that remain committed to Mother Earth. After all, the environment will play a pivotal role in all of our futures.