Ah, college application season. The time when prospective students start evaluating their priorities in higher education. They may be academic program strength, cost versus value, proximity to home or even a variable like status on the party school list.
But where does eco-friendliness factor into the application process? After all, students are spending four (or more) years of their lives at universities, and many of these are stepping up to address their environmental footprint. This includes dealing with waste management, incorporating green curriculum and other green advancements around campus.
Even a small private college can generate a lot of garbage, and some larger universities are the size of a small American city. But institutions are becoming more aware of their footprints and are participating in programs such as the Recyclemania competition, which had more than 500 participating schools this year.
Going a step further, Dartmouth College instituted its own compost facility in 1998. The New Hampshire school places bins in dining and residence halls to collect organic waste, which is then transported to the nearby center and transformed into nutrient-rich fertilizer.
The fertilizer is then used in the Dartmouth Organic Farm, which is a student-run, 2-acre farm that grows flowers, herbs and vegetables. This farm even has the capacity for multiple students to live there.
Another growing issue of waste in the college community is electronics. Schools provide computer labs, community televisions and plenty of other electronic devices with a limited shelf-life.
In the case of the UCLA, there is an electronics recycling center on campus. Although operated by the city of West Hollywood, students can bring in electronic devices and batteries (as well as other hazardous products like paint and household cleaners) on any Saturday for recycling. The school has also developed a campus-wide recycling program for CDs, DVDs and computer software.
Colleges can run up some expensive energy bills when it comes to lighting campus buildings, dorms and recreational fields. One way to reduce the impact of this is through utilizing renewable energy, which generates electricity from sources other than petroleum.
For North Carolina’s Appalachian State University, students decided to tax themselves to pay for renewable energy programs. The University started its Renewable Energy Initiative in 2004, charging a $5 fee per student each semester.
This year, Appalachian State installed a wind turbine on campus that is able to to generate 145,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This energy will be plugged into the school’s power grid, reducing the need for other forms of energy.
In 2008, Arizona State University installed enough solar panels to cover up to 7 percent of the university’s power needs. The school placed panels on parking lots and campus buildings to become the largest college provider of solar power in the U.S.
Arizona State estimates that its solar panel system generates $425,000 worth of energy and reduces carbon emissions by 2,825 tons annually.
New Mexico State University employed a gray water system at its Fabian Garcia Science Center to take non-contaminated water generated from residential means (showers, washing machines, etc.) and use it to irrigate the nearby arboretum. The university is also researching other ways to implement gray water recycling.
For the aspiring environmental work force, colleges are also increasing their emphasis on green curriculum. Arizona State University developed the nation’s first undergraduate sustainability school in 2008. It provides an economic and scientific spin on issues of environmental importance, such as climate change and land degradation.
A more common focus has been on sustainability MBA programs. Colleges that provide these programs include Brandeis University, Dominican University, Duquesne University, Green Mountain College, Stanford University and the University of North Carolina – a nice mix of school sizes and geographic locations from which to choose.
With all of the emphasis toward green programs in colleges, it’s no surprise that schools are ranking better with environmental groups. Each year, the Sustainable Endowments Institute grades every school on its green efforts, and the number of “A” grades jumped from four to 15 when comparing the 2007 (inaugural) and 2009 reports. You can also check out the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools rankings and the Presidents’ Climate Commitment to find out which schools are working towards carbon-neutral goals.