The Green College Experience

notebookColleges across the nation are making an effort to go green in an attempt to help the environment. One of the most obvious ways colleges can help is by encouraging students to recycle. Recyclemania is a friendly competition between colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. For 8 weeks each spring, students work to reduce waste and to increase recycling. In the 2011 competition, California State University-San Marcos was named the Grand Champion.
What are some other ways colleges are helping the environment?
The following list is by no means exhaustive but does give a general idea of what schools are doing and some of the schools that do it consistently.
  • Encouraging students to turn off unneeded lights. Cornell University has a program called Lights Off! that aims to reduce the amount of wasted electricity on that campus.
  • Providing recycling cans in dorm rooms. (Princeton University)
  • Providing local and organic food in dining halls (Dickinson College)
  • Rewarding commuters who carpool with a discount on parking permits (University of Maryland-College Park and University of Virginia)
  • Building green buildings based on LEED standards (Yale University and Duke University)
  • Supporting environmental student groups (Hendrix College)
  • Providing green themed housing (University of California-Berkeley and University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

These are just some of the ways colleges are going green. The Green Report Card lists even more ways that schools are helping and even grades over 300 colleges and universities based on their eco-friendly policies.
There are also many, many things college students can do on their own to help the environment. There’s no need to wait for the university to enact a policy. Here’s a list of just 7 easy things college students (and people in general) can do to help the environment:

  • Recycle!
  • Unplug appliances when they are not in use, particularly during school breaks
  • Take classes in environmental studies
  • Use re-usable grocery bags when shopping
  • Buy locally and eat organically when possible
  • Conserve paper
  • Walk to places that are close by instead of driving

Living in an environmentally friendly way can be easy and fun! See environmental groups on your college campus to learn about even more ways you can help the evironment.

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Planning For National Green Ribbon Schools Program In Final Stages

Similar to the Blue Ribbon award that distinguishes academic excellence, the U.S. Government will soon be launching a national program that will recognize schools that demonstrate high levels of involvement and concern with the environment. The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) program was first proposed by the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality on April 26, 2011 and its anticipated release is expected later this month, after final details of the program are worked out.

The program will award a Green Ribbon to schools based on the following criteria:

  • the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the school and its teachers, students, and staff.
  • how going green has improved the school’s teachers, students, and staff, such as health and social improvements.
  • the level of environmental literacy and knowledge the students acquire in school.

Until September 14, the Department of Education is requesting and asking the public for comments and suggestions regarding the program.

Applauding the efforts and achievements of eco-friendly schools is not the only purpose of the program. The government also hopes that other schools will be encouraged to go green because not only is it good for the environment, but it offers a number of other benefits.

What are some of the benefits of going green any school can enjoy? First, any school would like to save money. Schools that strive for energy efficiency usually enjoy some money savings. Energy efficient appliances, lighting, and electronics use less energy and lowers electric bills.

Another way some schools go green, although somewhat extreme, is by eliminating paper at school. However, there is no clear advantage paperless schools have over schools that use paper because there are numerous trade offs. Paperless schools help saves trees but rely heavily on computers and electronics. Using computers drains electricity and manufacturing them often involves toxins and environmentally damaging processes. Also, the heavy reliance on computers and electronics introduces another problem: a rise in electronic waste, which is much more of a hassle to recycle or dispose of than paper.

Of course, some of the environmental harm computers can do can be minimized. Many computer and computer parts manufacturers are increasingly striving to develop products that have minimal impact on the environment. Antec has developed their Earthwatts line of power supplies which uses a third less energy than comparable power supplies without compromising performance. Also, electricity can be provided by renewable sources, such as solar panels or biofuels.

Another benefit of going green is the positive effects it has on teachers, students, and staff. For example, a school that serves local food and avoids processed or pre-packaged food can certainly improve the physical health of its occupants and lessen its impact on the environment. Locally grown foods lack additives, preservatives, and chemicals and decrease fuel costs.  Local foods are usually more nutritious than processed or packaged food. Foods that are shipped from afar, processed, or pre-packaged all required additional resources and energy before being served. Additionally, packaging can be a source of litter.

Schools can also go green by utilizing cleaner modes of transportation. Using fuel efficient or electric buses or shuttles or promoting walking or bicycling to school reduces pollution and can be a form of healthy, physical exercise.

Lastly, going green and increasing knowledge among the youth would be a benefit, not only to schools, but to society as a whole. Promoting environmental literacy in schools increases awareness and can even dispel common myths and misconceptions about going green. Some people may be discouraged from becoming more environmentally friendly because, to them, “going green” may mean flashy solar panels, acres of forest, a radical change in your diet or lifestyle, or an empty wallet.

However, teaching people that going green can be easy and accessible to anyone would encourage them to adopt environmentally conscious practices. Kids can learn about solar panels and renewable energy and why they are advantageous but children can also learn that turning off lights and televisions when not in use saves energy, too. Going green is also about being creative and imaginative; there are no set rules and the opportunities are endless.

As the government has initiated numerous environmental programs and initiatives, the Green Ribbon Schools program hopes to furthermore encourage schools and communities to go green. The program looks to be more promising because it actively involves children and students, a group of people that  sometimes is overlooked.

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California College Is First To Become Grid-Positive

A college in California made history this week by becoming the first college to produce more energy than it consumes. Butte College, located 75 miles northeast of Sacramento and near the city of Chico in northern California, not only produces its own clean energy, but also provides enough energy to power over 9,200 homes. A system of 25,000 solar panels installed around the campus on parking structures, buildings, and over covered walkways can contribute up to 6.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, an amount equivalent to removing 615 cars from the state’s congested freeway systems. The solar panels were installed in three phases, beginning in 2005.

Butte College, whose rural campus sits on a 928-acre wildlife refuge, is the first college in the United States to implement carbon positive strategies. Butte College President Dr. Diana Van Der Ploeg says that “Butte College has had a longstanding commitment to sustainability. Achieving grid-positive status marks the culmination of years of effort to build Butte College’s supply of solar power and to improve energy efficiency on campus.” Its mission to cut carbon emissions will also save the college between $50 million and $75 million over the next 15 years – an amount that does not include the $31.6 million cost to build its solar panels and the added savings of eliminating electricity bills and avoiding the rising cost of electricity in future bills. The institution says that it can use these savings to boost enrollment and improve student programs and activities.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott also lauds the college’s enormous efforts, saying, “I’ve asked community colleges to become more entrepreneurial and seek out new and innovative ways to generate revenue and to cut operating costs. Butte College dramatically accomplishes both of these goals by becoming grid positive.  Furthermore, this college’s solar arrays will train workers for jobs in the green energy field – an outcome that will help California’s economy and recovery.”

Committed to sustainability from the ground up, Butte College recycles a remarkable 75% of its waste, has the largest student transport system of any community college in the state, and has one LEED Gold Certified building, with another one pending Gold certification. It also operates as a sustainable microcosm of a city, operating its own water and sewage treatment systems. The college aims to educate its students and prepare them for green-collar jobs by offering a certificate program in sustainability studies and an environmental career program, which incorporate green ideas into classrooms, as well as presenting sustainability workshops designed to inform participants about the green workforce.

The forward-thinking community college was established in 1967 and has previously been recognized as a leader and innovator in sustainability – among its awards are the 2009 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership Award and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2009 Campus Leadership Award. The college hosts an annual sustainability conference, inviting building companies, businesses and other colleges to collaborate on and discuss environmental issues and green practices.

California colleges and universities have frequently claimed top spots in nationwide sustainability rankings, proving that the state’s higher education institutions are leaders in a greener future for the nation. Stanford University and schools from the University of California (UC) system, which includes UCLA and UC Berkeley, and the California State University (CSU) system, including CSU Long Beach and CSU Fullerton, are consistently ranked among the nation’s greenest colleges. UC schools have adopted campus gardens, implemented campuswide bans of Styrofoam containers, brought organic and local food into student dining facilities, and use clean fuels for student buses. Schools across the state have installed solar panels and constructed LEED-certified buildings, and engage the student body by holding sustainability competitions in the dorms and offering sustainability courses and majors, while UC and CSU schools are enrolled in the California Climate Action Registry, which tracks and analyzes its members’ carbon emissions. 

Photo credit: Butte College Foundation

Promoting Sustainability, Dartmouth’s “Big Green Bus” Goes On A Road Trip

Dubbed the “Vehicle for Change”, Dartmouth’s “Big Green Bus” has departed for its seventh annual summer road tour. The former Greyhound bus converted to run on vegetable oil will be home and headquarters for 13 Dartmouth students specially chosen to head this year’s campaign to raise environmental awareness and promote sustainability.

The 11-week tour will span over 31 states. At each of the communities being visited, students will discuss and listen to sustainability success stories of local residents, business owners, and officials. These stories will be shared with the different communities the students visit. Additionally, each of the students play a unique role as part of the team, ranging from technically inclined engineers to public relations experts.

The current bus is actually Big Green Bus #4 and this year will be its first summer in operation. Donated by Greyhound, the bus was gutted and modified by Dartmouth students for maximum environmental friendliness.

The Big Green Bus has a Detroit Diesel 8V92TA engine converted to run on waste vegetable oil; typically, oil that was used for deep frying food. Because vegetable oil is much thicker than diesel fuel at lower temperatures, the so called “Frybrid” system on the bus uses diesel fuel until the engine and vegetable oil is warmed up to operating temperatures. Once the engine is warmed up and the vegetable oil reaches about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, the engine runs completely on vegetable oil. To cool the engine down, the system is purged to prevent vegetable oil from thickening and clogging the engine and fuel injectors.

The bus has one 220 gallon tank for diesel fuel and two 290 gallon tanks for vegetable oil. One of the 290 gallon tanks is for dirty oil, containing food pieces and other debris, and the other is for “clean” oil. Jules Valenti, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, explains how the dirty oil is cleaned: by letting it sit, food debris in the oil settles to the bottom of the tank and is drained from the tank. Afterward, the oil is transferred to the “clean” tank.

The Frybrid system on the Big Green Bus allows vegetable oil to get the same fuel economy as diesel fuel. Says Morgan Curtis of the engine’s fuel filtration system, “Functioning properly, the engine will get about the same mileage out of vegetable oil — about 1,000 miles on 300 gallons — that it would get on diesel fuel.”

The bus used in this summer’s tour has a host of other sustainable features besides the ability to run on vegetable oil. The solar panels attached to the bus’s roof provide enough electricity to run several on-board appliances and electronics including computers, a refrigerator, lighting, television, air conditioning, and the pumps that pump the vegetable oil.

The bus is lined with sustainable bamboo flooring. The bamboo was harvested in compliance to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. The wood has comprehensive documentation, from the time it was harvested to when it was purchased by a customer. Some of the excess flooring was used to build cabinets in the bus.

On tour, the students have to plan carefully where to source used vegetable oil. Due to the rising popularity of used vegetable oil as a fuel source, restaurants are increasingly making contracts with grease rendering companies. The Big Green Bus crew says they will rely on smaller restaurants for fuel because of the likelihood that those restaurants do not have contracts.

As the Big Green Bus tours the country, leaving behind an exhaust smelling like deep fried food, its crew hopes to share environmental success stories with each of the communities it visits, meant as an inspiration and a “Vehicle for Change.”

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Kids Take A Green Stance to Better the Future

The green movement has recently been invited into the minds of the youth through an increased emphasis on environmental education in schools. Some schools have been having fun at eco-carnivals while others are marching for a greener planet. The latest event was the Green Your School Challenge that asked kids to come up with creative initiatives focused on school food, climate change, energy conservation, and recycling. Ten schools were selected and rewarded as the “Top 10 Green Schools.”

These new programs are more than just teaching what the three R’s mean: reduce, reuse, and recycle. They are teaching children that they are the future and a vital part of the green movement to create a cleaner environment. Some schools are part of programs like the “Recycling Spies” who reward children who are seen recycling, while other schools hold assemblies to teach how to fight the climate change. There are now classes to point out how and why animals are going extinct, and the controversial issues that surround these reasons.
Several events have happened this month and will continue to occur. One student has been reported for suing the state of Colorado for ruining his environment and failing to protect the climate. A group called iMatter organized a youth march that included over 25 countries. Children marched through their towns with signs that said things like, “I hang” with a picture of clothes hanging out on a line. Another sign displayed the words, “I power” with a windmill attached. Children are uniting worldwide to create a cleaner, greener, environment. Kids are taking a stance and reducing the pounds of greenhouse gases by the millions. They are the future and are taking a hold of it into their tiny, but powerful, hands.

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Construction of Kohler Environmental Center Progressing at Choate Boarding School

Imagine attending a school that not only teaches you about the environment in the classroom or a laboratory but also requires you apply the knowledge you gain to life and make everyday choices with sustainability in mind. Recently, the boarding school, Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut has begun construction of an academic center that focuses on improving the relationship between humans and the environment.

Choate received a donation of $20 million from class of ’57 alumni Herbert V. Kohler, who is currently the Chairman and CEO of Kohler Company and chairman of Choate’s Board of Trustees. Kohler envisions this Environmental Center will be all about sustainability and appreciating and taking better care of the environment. Kohler donated money for the construction of this center because he wanted to preserve and protect the land from further development.

Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) was chosen to design the Environmental Center. Kohler believes they have “a long history of leading-edge design; recently, of balancing aesthetics with sustainable design.” RAMSA wants this building to achieve the highest sustainability ratings and certifications. In the design of the building, they aimed not only for it to be the first LEED-platinum building at Choate, but also to satisfy the more stringent requirements of the Living Building Challenge. RAMSA wants the building to have a net zero energy usage and possibly be entirely off the grid and able to generate enough electricity to avoid relying on outside sources. Also, a wetland is to be constructed which will treat the center’s waste water.

Choate Rosemary Hall owns the 268 acres that will be set aside for the Environmental Center. This land was previously proposed to be a site for an on-campus golf course. However, those plans were dropped because the school believed the land could be used in a more environmentally conscious way. As stated in a memo in 2008, the school felt the land “had an extraordinarily diverse ecological asset that could be further used to enrich the education of students and contribute to a range of educational opportunities not only for Choate Rosemary Hall students but for others as well.”

The green building design and energy saving features are not the only reasons the Kohler Environmental Center will have a positive impact. The experience from learning and living at the Environmental Center will enable students, faculty, professors, and researchers to understand the environment at a whole different level than traditional classroom and laboratory settings. The curriculum will mostly stress environmental science. However, non science classes will be offered as well, but relationships to the environment and natural sciences will be presented. For example, English may be taught, but students will be reading and writing about environmental topics.

Living at the Environmental Center will also enrich a student’s green experience. The dormitories will allow them to see firsthand what living in a green building is like. Students will practice responsible energy use. Also, they will have opportunities to observe the work of visiting researchers.

Despite the potential benefits of the Environmental Center, there have been some reservations and opposing opinions about its construction. Due to the rough economy, Kohler admits he had some trouble convincing Choate’s board of trustees to approve of his project. Choate was losing money and thought selling the land would help the school’s finances. Also, an unnamed faculty member felt that “it’s a mistake to spend $20 million on it.” He thought it was a good idea if it were a smaller scale project and that some of the saved money would be used for financial aid. Also, it may be difficult to attract students to enroll at the Environmental Center. Since only 20 students at a time can live at the center, students participating in a focus group expressed they might get tired of seeing the same faces each day and may feel disconnected from the rest of the campus.

If successful, the Kohler Environmental Center and its educational programs will showcase Choate’s commitment to sustainability and may encourage other schools to follow suit. This new type of learning institution that allows students to both learn and live green may prove to be more effective than the traditional classroom setting in teaching students to be more environmentally responsible.

Community College Installs Wind Turbines On Campus

Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) in Gardner, Massachusetts is taking the lead in the campus sustainability movement as it tests its newly installed on-site wind turbines, according to a report from Earth Techling. The turbines will be a source of renewable energy for the campus and will provide 97 percent of its power. They will even put some power back into the grid as well as earn some revenue for the college.

The turbines were recently tested by National Grid utility company and appear to be operating correctly. Both turbines ran smoothly on the windy day and one of them apparently generated 1 megawatt of power for the campus. But they will not be fully operational until they go through a few more prep runs.

Officials at the college are thrilled to reach the fruition of the project, which is expected to bring in $1 million annually, provide 97 percent of the school’s electric power, and return 30 percent of the power it uses back into the grid. The project was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy as well as from state bonds.

Wachusett is well known for its green and renewable energy efforts and has made them campus-wide goals. In 2002, the main campus in Gardner installed a biomass heating system, which they claim has cut their carbon footprint by 24 percent. They also installed solar power and solar thermal heating equipment.

The school has a general consciousness of sustainability, focusing their efforts on integrating environmental awareness with education. Faculty members and students were themselves involved in the installation of the turbines. The president of the college, Daniel Asquino, said in a statement that with the turbines in operation they will be “the most energy-independent college or university in New England.”

Although Wachusett is forging ahead of the pack at the moment, plenty more campuses across the nation are installing their own renewable energy solutions.

The University of New England (UNE) just installed solar panels last week as part of its own project. Their project was funded through a $50,000 grant for a solar hot water system at the Campus Center, according to The Portland Press Herald.

A digital monitor will help UNE calculate their savings in energy and dollars. It is expected that the system could save them up to 50 percent of the hot water energy they normally use.

Economic and ecological benefits undoubtedly play roles in motivating campuses across the nation to rethink their own energy sources. Devising and implementing renewable energy and other environmental projects has developed into rich educational opportunities for students as well as profitable economic occasions.

One organization stands out as a resource nexus for the movement, called the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE.) The organization is especially devoted to the movement across campuses. Its website,, provides the tools and resources for building sustainability efforts on campuses. Students and faculty who are interested in these goals can find information about campus case studies, energy plans, and online discussions there.

The websites states that “implementing conservation measures and switching to renewable sources of energy can help institutions save money and protect them from utility rate volatility. Renewable energy may be generated locally and allow campuses to support local economic development. Institutions can also help shape markets by creating demand for cleaner, renewable sources of energy.”

Switching to renewable energy is a reliable way for schools to generate revenue, especially in tough economic times. As tuition rises and cuts are made across the nation’s campuses, many school administrations might benefit to consider the fiscal and educational advantages of green energy on campus.

Sierra Club Rates “Coolest Schools” in the US

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 26, 2010
This summer the Sierra Club, one of North America’s largest and oldest environmental advocacy groups, released its fourth annual survey to determine which colleges and universities in the US are “coolest.”  Designed to draw attention to the role higher educational institutions can play in combating global warming, the survey rated schools according to ten factors that affect greenhouse gas emissions and overall sustainability.  The top twenty “cool schools” received special recognition from the Sierra Club for their efforts to promote environmentally responsibility and educate a new generation of voters, consumers, and activists. 
In determining just how sustainable a school is, this year’s survey looked at everything from where college cafeterias source their food from to how sustainability fits into the curriculum (or doesn’t).  Yet according to the Sierra Club, the single most important factor in determining a school’s “coolness” was the type of energy from which a campus derives its electricity.  Schools that rely on a relatively clean power grid, like University of Washington, scored high on the list.  Meanwhile schools that get most of their electricity from coal-fired power plants had a significant challenge making it into the top tier.  At the end of the day Green Mountain College took first place on the list, with an overall score of 88.6 out of 100.  Other schools that scored near the top included Evergreen State College, Dickinson College, and Stanford University.
During the survey process, the Sierra Club sent questionnaires to 900 higher educational institutions in the US, containing in-depth questions about those schools’ sustainability efforts.  A total of 163 schools responded to the request for information, and the data they supplied was used to determine each school’s ranking.  Partly because some schools were not reached by the survey effort, and partly because the ranking system was necessarily subjective on some level, the list shouldn’t be regarded as the final word on sustainability in the educational realm.  However it does provide a glimpse into how some of the country’s best-known colleges and universities are doing.
So what inspires a school to go green in the first place?  Sometimes it’s an institution-wide commitment to environmentalism and sustainability.  Sometimes its the result of the good work of a few key faculty members who want to see their workplace lead by example.  Occasionally, as in the case of schools that just happen to be located where the electricity grid is pretty green, luck plays a role in the process. 
But at more and more campuses across the US, one of the most important factors is student activism and student-initiated campaigns to lower a school’s carbon footprint and waste stream.  From large state schools to small private colleges, student environmental groups are organizing to make their place of education cooler.  Students at University of Washington, which ranked in fourth place on the Sierra Club list, helped implement one of the nation’s most successful “green fee” programs, ensuring a certain amount of student tuition goes toward funding sustainable projects.  Meanwhile at schools like Case Western in Ohio, students are organizing to clean up or shut down on-campus power plants.  In other parts of the country, students have organized to ban bottled water on their campuses, or improve the sustainability of campus vehicle fleets.  Many of these efforts have played an important part in shifting educational institutions toward a cooler existence.
If you are in college or know someone who is, check out the complete list of schools rated by the Sierra Club to see if yours made the grade.  If not, there is always next year to do better.  Making schools “cooler” is an ongoing effort, which promises to keep college and university campuses at the forefront of the transition to a cleaner, greener economy. 
Here are the Sierra Club’s top 20 coolest schools:
  1. Green Mountain College
  2. Dickinson College
  3. Evergreen State College
  4. University of Washington
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of California, Irvine
  7. Northland College
  8. Harvard University
  9. College of the Atlantic
  10. Hampshire College
  11. University of California, Santa Cruz
  12. Middlebury College
  13. University of Colorado, Boulder
  14. Warren Wilson College
  15. University of California San Diego
  16. University of California, Davis
  17. University of Vermont
  18. Georgia Tech
  19. University of Pennsylvania
  20. New York University 
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley