Colleges and Universities Lead the Way in Sustainability

A USGBC Students group at the University of California-San Diego helps to divert waste from the landfill during freshman move-in for their ‘Don’t Be Trashy’ event.

Over the past year, ED has highlighted the exemplary efforts of K-12 schools to reduce environmental impact and costs; improve health and wellness; and teach effective environmental and sustainability education. However, healthy, safe, cost-efficient facilities, practices and learning are not limited to primary and secondary educations. In many ways, colleges and universities, and their students, have been the vanguards of the sustainability movement. Here are some of the ways post-secondary institutions are making fantastic strides toward sustainability goals:

Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability offers trans-disciplinary sustainability degree programs in business, design, technology, engineering, law, humanities, social sciences, and public affairs, among other subjects.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, students voted in 2006 to self-levy a tax of $2.60 per quarter, contributing approximately $182,000 a year toward The Green Initiative Fund.

At Portland State University in Ore., the Institute for Sustainable Solutions hosts an annual International EcoDistrict Summit. The Institute’s 2013 Solutions Generator offers awards for up to 16 groups of students to design innovative solutions to pressing sustainability issues.

The College of Lake County, in Grayslake, Ill., works to facilitate important sustainability conversations for the community through the annual County Green conference. In addition, the college offers faculty professional development courses in integrating sustainability into classes.

At Maine’s Unity College, students live in one of the first super-efficient, certified “passive house” student residence in the country, and built a campus root cellar and animal barn. Its Environmental Citizen Curriculum engages students of every major with sustainability science and environmental challenges.

At Furman University in Greenville, S.C., the Shi Center, a demonstration site for different sustainable technologies, has attracted over a dozen national and regional sponsors. With a $2.5 million Department of Energy grant, the school will replace all of its 11 aging heat pumps with ground source geothermal varieties by 2014.

At De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif., students can join one of many environmental committees and enroll in sustainability-focused classes. The college offers reduced rates on public transport and bike rentals.

In Muncie, Ind., Ball State University boasts the largest geothermal heating and cooling system of its kind in the nation. When completed, the system will allow the university to save $2 million per year in operating costs and cut its carbon footprint roughly in half.

At Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vt., 20 percent of food is raised and harvested by students in campus gardens, fields, farm, forests, and orchards. What products can’t be grown on campus comes from local, sustainable, organic farms. The Sterling Farm and Gardens serve as laboratories for best practices in sustainable agriculture.

These are only a few examples of two and four-year colleges and universities reducing environmental impact and costs; improving health and wellness; and graduating engaged environmental citizens. And students are taking notice: according to the Princeton Review, 68 percent of likely college applicants say a college or universities’ commitment to sustainability would affect their decision to attend.

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