It’s not easy being green. Here’s how 10 colleges do it.

Daily Briefing

It’s not easy being green. Here’s how 10 colleges do it.

Students care about sustainability when choosing a college. More than half (63%) of students surveyed for the Princeton Review‘s 2018 “College Hopes & Worries Survey” reported that information about a college’s commitment to the environment would influence their application or enrollment decisions.

Colleges that invest in sustainability can appeal to more students—and help their bottom line. Several institutions that use renewable energy have been able to save money on their energy bills and recover costs.

Here are a few ways colleges go green.

1: Conserve energy

Mt. Hood Community College started a competition between campus offices to see who would use the least electricity over the course of a month in 2016. The business office won and received a trophy and a pizza party as a reward. The college also partnered with an outside company that helped install solar panels and LED lighting, as well as upgrade boilers and chillers. With these and other green upgrades, the college cut its annual electrical bill by $750,000.

Monroe Community College also cut down electricity and heating use to save energy and costs. The college installed automation systems so that air-conditioning and heating are not on full blast during evenings and weekends. The school also uses a co-generation plant on its main campus to general electricity and heat through natural gas. The plant is programmed to adjust to the volatility of gas prices to ensure the college is being as cost-effective as possible. The college’s green energy strategy helped it reduce energy bills by more than 23% from 2011 to 2016.

2: Invest in renewable energy


of the University of Maryland's purchased electricity is from renewable resources
of the University of Maryland’s purchased electricity is from renewable resources

Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) has built solar arrays over parking garages at several campuses with the help of state funding for clean energy projects. The solar arrays have helped the district save about $7 million, says utility program manager Aris Hovasapian. The district also upgraded heating and cooling systems and installed LED light bulbs. In the future, leaders at LACCD are interested in installing commercial batteries to preserve solar energy.

Similarly, in 2009, Cornell University announced a Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2035. To get there, they’ve begun using renewable energy sources, replacing coal combustion with power plants, and decreasing energy demand, among other strategies.

And Southwestern University, which topped Environment America Research and Policy Center’s 2019 ranking of colleges for renewable energy use, purchases renewable energy credits from wind energy credits.

3: Incorporate sustainability into the curriculum

Institutions that incorporate students’ interests into academic and co-curricular opportunities can help distinguish their programs from competitors and attract students, writes academic program expert Ashley Delamater for EAB‘s Academic Affairs Forum. For example, the University of Texas at Austin‘s MBA program has a “CleanTech” concentration option that specifically targets students interested in renewable energy careers.

Similarly, as part of the University of Maryland‘s (UMD) Climate Action Plan, the university created a Sustainability Studies minor that is now the most popular minor at the school. The institution has also reduced emissions from solid waste by nearly 100%, increased the number of commuters using public transit, reduced energy consumption among buildings on campus, and ensured that 76% of its purchased electricity is from renewable resources.

Other colleges—like the University of New Hampshire, Colorado State University, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—have been recognized by the Sierra Club for their eco-friendly curriculums and sustainability-related course offerings.

4: Reduce other forms of waste

Goucher College has taken several steps to be more environmentally friendly, such as partnering with a company that provides dining and food service management to produce more plant-based proteins and support local, more sustainable food options.

2 million

pounds of food have been recovered and donated by the Food Recovery Network

Students at UMD have also started grassroots efforts to reduce the university’s food waste. They founded the Food Recovery Network on campus in 2011, which has since recovered and donated over 2 million pounds of food.

Source: Delamater, EAB, 3/8/18; Environment America report, accessed 4/10/19; Sixel, Houston Chronicle, 4/5/19; O’Reilly, Sierra Club Magazine, 8/27/18; Sierra Club methodology, accessed 8/29/18; Princeton Review press release, 10/16/18; Ashford, Community College Daily, 5/5/17; Kim, NRDC blog, 8/14/17

As institutions look for more opportunities to improve their sustainability efforts, green revolving funds like those at Harvard University provide the necessary investment to reduce utility consumption, waste removal, or operating costs. Learn how Harvard relaunched their revolving loan program, and how the improved application process continues to evolve.

Read more about campus sustainability

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