15 creative ways that students and colleges are going greener
Kappa and Trade
Green the Greeks, a student organization at UCLA, is trying to educate the school’s Greek system about sustainability issues. Frats and sororities use a disproportionate amount of energy, the group says, so it’s aiming to “harness the resources of the Greek community for the environment,” its website explains. The rush to get eco-friendly is happening elsewhere, too: At Dartmouth, the Green Greeks Program involves a sustainability coordinator in each house who orchestrates composting, recycling, and energy conservation. Green Greeks at the University of Michigan held a recycling competition that raised almost $1,500 and recycled over 60,000 cans and bottles. Who nu?
Applying to college means the liberal use of caffeine, SAT words, and … paper: more than 750 million pieces of it every year, according to Students Plant the Seed. Don’t want to join the ream team? Apply electronically, an option available at hundreds of colleges nationwide. Start by checking out the websites of the schools of your choice; many allow e-admissions. In addition, nearly 350 schools accept the online applications provided by the nonprofit group The Common Application. The SPS site, meanwhile, lets you petition colleges to support electronic apps — and the group is aiming to plant 9,388 trees, the number it estimates are cut down each year to produce all that wasted paper.
In a move that will leave many a student without a winter sled, colleges around the country are going trayless. Though some students may worry about balancing their plates as they move through bustling cafeterias, ditching trays means big energy and water savings — up to half a gallon of water is saved for every tray that doesn’t need to be washed. It also means less food waste and may even cut down on the Freshman 15 (although the Freshman 5 just isn’t as catchy). No word on a substitute shield for food fights.
Keeping It Reel
Pop some organic popcorn for the touring Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival On Campus, which visits colleges nationwide with a three-hour lineup of incite-ful action shorts and documentaries. Student groups can invite the tour to campus to show one of several themed lineups — wildlife, agriculture, activism, etc. The energy-themed set includes the provocative consumer-culture critique The Story of Stuff. Watch the film trailers.
A growing number of colleges are launching or expanding their bike-loan or bike-share programs, aiming to get students, faculty, and staff out of their cars. California State University’s Fresno campus has had a bike program for seven years; it makes about 100 bikes available for rental each semester. The University of California-Berkeley is starting up a program with 20 bikes available on campus for students to use for up to a day at a time; a $15 charge for the semester covers bike use, a lock, a map, and a light. Auburn University complements its bike-sharing program with a bike maintenance shop in the student union building. Wisconsin’s Ripon College this year offered free mountain bikes and locks to the incoming class if they agreed not to drive to or park on campus, and more than 60 percent took the wheel deal.
Flush With Success
Forget girls gone wild; dorms gone green is the new (albeit less libidinous) collegiate stereotype. Wake Forest University fitted its dorms with low-flush toilets, low-flow showerheads, and Energy Star appliances. American University renovated a dorm with low-VOC paint and eco-friendly flooring. And don’t pooh-pooh composting toilets, now in the College of the Atlantic’s green dorms and Warren Wilson College’s popular EcoDorm, which also uses collected rainwater and passive solar heating.
Om Cooked Meals
Iowa’s Maharishi University of Management says it’s the first college in the U.S. with an all-organic, vegetarian, freshly prepared menu; others, like the University of California-Berkeley, are in the process of obtaining organic certification. Colgate student Nina Merrill’s food blog Organic on the Green rounds up efforts to increase sustainable, local, or organic food on various campuses. And Pennsylvania’s Lafayette College takes food uber-local with corn on the quad. There, six-foot-tall plants are almost ready for harvesting, and freshmen students are required to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to learn about the twisted path that conventionally grown corn takes on its way to their plates.
Rank and Smile
The Princeton Review this summer started ranking colleges on greenness, with 11 schools receiving top honors. Kaplan’s newly released 2009 college guide lists 25 green colleges, and other rankers include the Sierra Club and the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s “College Sustainability Report Card.” Arizona State, Bates, University of New Hampshire, University of Washington, College of the Atlantic, Harvard, and Yale make several of the lists. The last three made Grist’s list of green colleges, too.
Waste Not, Want Rot
Greening the caf is great, but what happens after lunch? Three of Yale’s dining halls this summer tried a pilot program to turn campus food waste into compost for eventual sale to local homeowners, and a new dining hall at Colorado State has two pulpers to compact food waste so leftovers can be composted. But Ohio University wins bragging rights for the country’s biggest on-campus, in-vessel composting system, which turns leftovers into rich soil in a quick two weeks (and gets half its energy from solar power).
Forget what you heard in high school — riding the bus is hip. Especially if you’re aboard the University of Montana’s new 50-seat biodiesel bus, which is clean, smooth, comfy, and best of all, free. Traditional bus service is becoming limited on some campuses due to rising gas prices, but schools like Duke and the overalls-conjuring University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh are expanding their bus service off-campus and at night. California’s Butte College runs the biggest community college transportation system in the state, which helped it win the National Wildlife Federation’s grand prize for campus global warming solutions.
Vow-ers That Be
Not content to let students have all the fun, college presidents are joining hands (and putting pen to paper) to stop global warming. By signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, presidents pledge to come up with comprehensive plans for cutting their schools’ greenhouse-gas emissions and moving toward carbon neutrality. Though the pledge is less than two years old, more than 550 presidents have signed on, at least one from every U.S. state.
Move-in and Groovin’
Washington, D.C.’s George Washington University just had its first-ever “Green Move-In,” which included a paperless check-in system for dorms and designated recycling areas for moving boxes. Instead of passing out heaps of unwanted orientation literature, the school encouraged students to print out just the info they wanted or consult maps and handouts posted in common areas. “Green Move-In” was inspired by last semester’s successful “Green Move-Out,” in which volunteers gathered up and recycled 3,000 pounds of food, 2,200 bags of clothing, and 4,500 books left behind by students who’d vacated the dorms.
Semester in Green-land
Flying halfway around the world may seem like the antithesis of green, but studying abroad for a semester just got a little more sustainable. The Green Passport program offers information about everything from eating locally to volunteering, and includes a pledge in which students promise to minimize their impact on the environment, be culturally respectful, and give back to their host community. In that same spirit, Middlebury College in Vermont now offers grants to students who plan to research sustainability issues or do eco-projects during their study-abroad experiences.
Hooky, Line, and Sinker
Gas prices are hitting rural colleges especially hard, and some are responding creatively by condensing classroom days or moving instruction online. Some students at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, which has five campuses spread over 100 miles, couldn’t afford the commute for thrice-weekly classes, so the school created twice-weekly hybrid courses that are supplemented by extra work at home and online. Lakeshore Technical College in Wisconsin this summer cut out all Friday classes because most students are commuters and there’s no bus line near the school. Officially sanctioned hooky!
Oh, Grow Up!
Students in several dorms at Pitzer College in California have access to rooftop gardens and are encouraged to join garden workdays on Fridays. Four buildings at Texas’ Rice Univerisity feature green roofing, which keeps them cooler and helps lower energy use. And the architecture department at the Massachusetts College of Art got a $10,000 grant to design and build a rooftop garden that incorporates local native plants. While all this greenery will look lovely and help prevent runoff, students will have to look elsewhere for their favorite plant.
Did we miss a great greening effort you know about? Does your college deserve kudos for its eco-efforts? Tell us in comments below.