Greenest Universities

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The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) was established in 2005 to “help coordinate and strengthen campus sustainability efforts at regional and national levels, and to serve as the first North American professional association for those interested in advancing campus sustainability.” Today, the AASHE also recognizes colleges and universities that have achieved the greatest level of success with green initiatives on-campus and within their surrounding communities. The association gauges these efforts using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a voluntary system that allows different colleges and universities to report trends and track their sustainability efforts. Four different STARS ratings ― platinum, gold, silver, and bronze ― may be awarded to various establishments, companies, and organizations across the country.

This list from BestColleges.com names the 15 U.S. colleges and universities that have earned the highest STARS ratings, thereby distinguishing themselves as the nation’s greenest schools. Our goal with this list is to spotlight the schools that have launched the most impactful initiatives to reduce on-campus waste and energy consumption, promote alternative transportation, provide funding to student and faculty-led green proposals, and take other measures to benefit the environment. AASHE does not rank institutions but recognizes that STARS data may contribute to rankings done by other organizations. These rankings, as well as the methodology for evaluating and scoring, are not endorsed by AASHE.

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Rank Name Description
1

Colorado State University - Fort Collins

STARS Score: 85.29

Colorado State University is the greenest higher-learning institution in the United States. As the first school in the world to earn Platinum in the STARS rating system, Colorado State leads the nation in sustainability best practices. This green campus is home to the first solar-heated/air-conditioned on-campus building. Colorado State worked with NASA to develop a cloud-profiling radar system, CloudStat, which monitors climate change and provides CSU students with incredible research opportunities concerning its own energy usages.

Situated in northern Colorado, this sustainable campus along the western edge of the Great Plains sits at the base of the breath-taking Rocky Mountain. Residents find that this campus provides easy access to mountain biking, skiing, rafting and other outdoor sports in this scenic location. CSU also boasts a Mountain Campus adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park that provides hands-on Natural Resources field courses and research.

The campus offers programs in ecosystem science, sustainability, alternative fuels, conservation and many more. Academic areas at CSU that address environmental sustainability are offered in all eight of the University's colleges and span across programs in engineering, natural resources, forestry, public policy, environmental ethics, global and sustainable business, atmospheric science, soil and crop sciences, construction management, and many other programs. In 2014, Warner College of Natural Resources launched a Master of Greenhouse Gas Management and Accounting program, the first of its kind in the nation and one of several graduate degrees at CSU with an environmental focus. Students can participate in numerous volunteer and outreach opportunities to improve their community at CSU.

Quick Facts

  • Sustainability-related research is conducted in more than 90% of the academic departments at CSU.
  • CSU earned the first ever platinum star rating awarded by STARS in 2015, making it the first institution to do so on an international scale.
  • Online and on campus, the university offers 962 credit courses with sustainability content and an additional 532 non-credit continuing education courses, making theirs the most robust offering at a single university.

2

Stanford University

STARS Score: 81.02

Stanford seeks to make sustainable living a part of the Stanford experience. The Stanford Energy Systems Innovation Program aims to reduce carbon emissions by 68%, for example, and cut potable water usage by 15% in the coming years. The waste-diversion rate at Stanford is rising steadily, and the university's goal is 75% waste diversion by 2020.

The university boasts more than 20 "green" clubs, which are open to students in any major, that offer a chance to make an impact on sustainability at Stanford and beyond. The Stanford Gleaning Project, for example, harvests fruit and organic vegetables that are then donated to local hunger-relief organizations.

Stanford is situated midway between San Francisco and San Jose, the region known for its affiliation to nearby Yahoo!, Google, Hewlett-Packard and many other cutting-edge companies. The Santa Cruz Mountains and Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay ensconce the campus, which means the beach, hiking and paddle-boarding are also easily accessible.

Quick Facts

  • The student-teacher ratio at Stanford is only 4:1.
  • Roughly 47% of the food served in Stanford’s 30 dining halls is either organic or locally sourced; in addition, 65% of solid waste produced on this campus is recycled or composted.
  • The university offers nearly 500 courses on sustainability as it pertains to 640 different departments and disciplines.
3

Sterling College

STARS Score: 78.97

An environmentally-focused, four-year college in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, this institution strives to nurture thoughtful and innovative scholars. Students at Sterling learn through the lens of becoming a better steward of the environment, and their experience at this college is a blend of academic and experiential learning.

In keeping with the goal of spreading goodwill and betterment, Sterling has a curriculum rich in sustainability offerings. Outdoor skills training is a foundational tenet of an education at this institution. Students are also required to complete an internship prior to graduating, and their education includes courses on examining issues and defending perspectives.

The campus has not had vending machines for over a decade and leads the nation in producing sustainable farmed food on-campus for the community.The student-run farm produces 20% of the food served on-campus, and much of the labor is performed by draft horses (as opposed to modern farm equipment). Sterling leads the nation in sustainability initiatives, all of which are regularly updated on their website.

Quick Facts

  • 100% of the students have a job on campus; Sterling is one of seven work colleges in the U.S. Students earn a minimum of $1,650 per semester that goes toward their tuition.
  • 95% of the students at SC report gainful employment following the first year after graduation. 80% of those students stated their employment was either closely or somewhat related to their major area of study.
  • With the installation of ten more solar trackers from AllEarth Renewables; this campus will be equipped to power more than 80% of its electricity usage on campus using solar power. Even the barns at Sterling are powered by solar energy.
4

University of Connecticut

STARS Score: 78.48

Since 2002,the University of Connecticut's Director of Environmental Policy has been tasked with pursuing environmental regulatory compliance, green building, and sustainability initiatives. This includes the establishment of the 25-person Environmental Policy Advisory Council (EPAC) to the President. The mission of the senior advisory group is to engage students, staff, faculty, and administrators in matters of environmental stewardship and sustainability at the university.

TheOffice of Environmental Policy serves as the central hub for engaging members of the UConn community. Students can find out how to participate in a number of initiatives in the areas of recycling, climate, energy, and water. Initiatives include the Give & Go Move Out Campaign, Green Game Day, and Green Campus Tours.

Quick Facts

  • 23 buildings, representing 2.2 million square feet, across all UConn campuses are LEED Certified or Registered.
  • 42 UConn offices have been certified under the Green Office Certification Program.
  • The dorms participate in an annual EcoMadness competition to see which building can use the least energy and water per capita over a given month.
5

University of Washington

STARS Score: 77.43

The University of Washington's Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability office was established in 2008 to support the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC), the Campus Sustainability Fund (CSF), and other departments to improve and increase campus sustainability.

The CSF is notable in its contribution to making the UW a "living laboratory," providing grant opportunities to members of the university community who want to implement projects that reduce the school's environmental impact. Living lab projects include green walls at the College of Built Environments, the North Creek Wetlands at UW Bothell, and the Prairie Line Train at UW Tacoma.

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Quick Facts

6

Appalachian State University

STARS Score: 77.24

Appalachian State University's Office of Sustainability outlines an ambitious list of core functions including creating strategic partnerships, developing sustainability guidelines, fostering education, communicating with engaged communities, and creating metrics to measure and assess progress. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the office seeks to "instill sustainable practices as a way of life."

The 3Es of environmental stewardship, economic responsibility, and social equity act as a touchstone for Appalachian State's sustainability efforts. Initiatives created to support this holistic approach include the use of on-campus renewable energy, the food bank and free store for students and family who have unmet food and goods needs, and the Social Justice Collaborative.

Quick Facts

7

Green Mountain College

STARS Score: 76.45

Located in the lakes region of southern Vermont, this liberal-arts college prides itself on the role environmental sustainability plays across the curriculum. The campus is flanked by the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the east and is situated on 155-acres. Students will find a farm, hiking trails, and even a swimming hole located on the Poultney River on site at this intimate college. Class sizes are small at this college, where approximately 850 students enrolled in 2013. For this reason, the average student-teacher ratio at Green Mountain is 14:1.

Students are required to enroll in a 37-credit environment-focused curriculum at GMC. All of these courses focus on the environment, climate change or sustainability. Some of the degree programs that students can choose from at this green campus include undergraduate degrees in Renewable Energy and EcoDesign (REED), Wilderness and Outdoor Therapy and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Production.

Quick Facts

  • Green Mountain College is among the first U.S. universities to realize complete climate neutrality and is recognized by the Princeton Review as the second greenest school in the country.
  • The College has a goal of diverting 99% of recyclable and compostable material from the landfill stream by 2020 using bicycle-powered carts for collection.
  • 85% of the campus’ heat and hot water comes from a $5.8 million biomass plant on site, which burns locally sourced woodchips for fuel.
8

Chatham University

STARS Score: 75.79

Chatham University's history is steeped in the tradition of environmental stewardship. The original 1870 prospectus, for what was then Pennsylvania Female College read, “For beauty of situation, for taste displayed in improvement, and for healthfulness, the location cannot be improved upon.” In 2007, Chatham established its Sustainability Office and hired their first Sustainability Coordinator.

Environmental studies was added to the list of programs offered in 1993. Over the next 16 years this would evolve into the Falk School of Sustainability & Environment, finally made possible by a gift from the Eden Hall Foundation. Programs offered through the school include Bachelor of Sustainability and Master of Sustainability.

Quick Facts

  • Through their partnership with Solar Tomorrow Inc., Chatham uses 64 solar thermal collectors to prevent 15-20 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere every year.
  • Chatham's Parkhurst dining hall locally sources 20% of its food.
  • Chatham purchases 90% of its electricity from a Green-E Certified mix of renewable energy. Most of this comes from wind power.
9

Colby College

STARS Score: 75.65

Colby, one of the oldest liberal arts colleges in the U.S., is located 15 minutes north of the state capital of Augusta, halfway between the rugged Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic coastline. Colby’s longstanding commitment to the environment is evident in many academic programs, especially the award-winning Environmental Studies Program. Students conduct research across the curriculum, working in partnership with faculty to solve complex challenges. Environmental studies research opportunities are as varied as studying oceanography and climate change at the Bigelow Laboratory, investigating church forests in Ethiopia, and examining the impact of water quality on the economy of the local Belgrade Lakes.

In April 2013, Colby became the fourth college in the country to achieve carbon neutrality, and the College continues to innovate. A wood-fueled biomass boiler reduces the College’s oil consumption by roughly a million gallons annually, a solar photovoltaic installation is on track to produce 33,000 kWh each year, and there are 12 LEED-certified buildings—and a commitment to seeking LEED certification for all new construction and significant renovation.

Quick Facts

  • More than 90% of waste from meals during Colby’s 2015 commencement was diverted to be recycled, reused, or composted.
  • Much of Colby’s 714-acre campus is a Maine wildlife management area, and the 128-acre Perkins Arboretum and bird sanctuary is popular for running, relaxation, and research.
  • Ninety-four percent of Class of 2014 grads are working, are enrolled in graduate studies, or are pursuing a fellowship.
10

American University

STARS Score: 75.35

Established in 2009, American University's Office of Sustainability, uses a three-tiered approach to engage students, staff, and faculty in their sustainability initiatives. The office employs Green Office Program in which they progress through a series of checklists to finally earn gold status, showing the highest dedication to environmental standards. Faculty have the opportunity to earn the Green Teaching Certificate, awarded to faculty members who demonstrate how their courses support sustainability.

Quick Facts

  • Since 2011, over 600 staff and faculty members, across 40 offices have participated in the Green Office Program.
  • AU has five LEED certified buildings with another two under review for certification.
  • In 2010 AU developed their Zero Waste Policy with the goal of diverting 100% of the school's waste from landfills.
11

Dickinson College

STARS Score: 74.24

Dickinson College is committed to environmental stewardship, working to integrate sustainability across curriculum, develop a sustainable campus, and promote awareness in the student and surrounding communities. This dedication is clearly illustrated in the school's goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2020, meaning zero net emissions of greenhouse gases. Since 2007, it is Dickinson's policy that all new buildings meet the minimum standards of LEED Silver certification.

In order to achieve the ambitious goal of climate neutrality, Dickinson's campus has been developed into a Living Laboratory. This laboratory includes a 50 acre organic farm, and the Treehouse, a residence hall for students commited to reducing their ecological impact.

Quick Facts

  • Dickinson's dining hall is a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association.
  • 150 tons of material (25% of the school's waste) is diverted from landfills through recycling.
  • 100% of pre and post-consumer food waste is collected from the dining hall and composted at the College Farm.
12

University of California - Santa Barbara

STARS Score: 73.40

Situated atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara’s mild winters and warm, dry summers offer fantastic opportunities to explore the land and ocean around the campus. Students at UC enjoy outdoor activities like surfing, hiking, kayaking and camping are popular off-campus. On-site, students appreciate the state-of-the-art fitness facilities, which are equipped with climbing walls, group fitness classes and outdoor pools.

The university is committed to protecting its beautiful campus, as well as the ecosystems it depends upon to thrive. The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) at UCSB funds conservation projects and advocacy programs sponsored by the college, and UCSB’s Coastal Fund also sponsors the preservation and restoration of local marine habitats. 44 of the buildings at Santa Barbara are LEED certified, and photovoltaic solar panels have helped the college cut their electrical usage by one-third. What’s more, over 200 faculty members at UCSB take part in eco-research in an effort to lead the way in sustainability education and breakthroughs.

Quick Facts

  • 47% of academic departments offer some sort of sustainability focus in their curriculum, for a total of 321 "green" classes.
  • 94% of students at UCSB bike, walk or take the bus to campus, which offers 10,000 bike parking spaces and 10 miles of bike paths.
  • While UCSB offers many interdisciplinary options for environmental studies, the campus offers two primary degree programs in this discipline: a master’s and PhD in environmental science & management.
13

Oregon State University

STARS Score: 73.27

An hour from the Pacific coast and roughly 90 minutes from Portland, Oregon State University, is the largest, and certainly the greenest, research university in the state. Marine science, sustainability and forestry are among the disciplines OSU students most often specialize in.

OSU’s focus on sustainability and diversity also draws students to the school’s engineering, biology, forestry and geoscience programs. As the campus continues to grow, it is working to complete a renovation that will improve the sustainability of the campus. OSU students take to their communities annually for a program called Campuses Take Charge. For CTC, participating students educate community members about reducing waste and energy usage in their homes and businesses.

Quick Facts

  • Oregon offers nationally recognized programs in sustainability studies like forestry, wildlife management, zoology, conservation biology, agricultural science and nuclear engineering.
  • 22 exercise machines are connected to the power grid at OSU. When in use, these machines feed into the grid that helps to provide energy to the university’s services and facilities. Since 2007, efforts like these have cut the energy usage by two-thirds.
  • OSU has been recognized as an outstanding green university for several years running by the Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report and the Sierra Club.
14

State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry

STARS Score: 73.03

ESF has made sustainability a cornerstone of their mission statement, going so far as to frame it within their re-accreditation assessment in 2011. The school proclaimed, "Sustainability begins with an obligation to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

As a research institute focused on environmental science and forestry, ESF works directly on projects to develop and advance sustainable technologies. A primary example of this effort is the Willow Project. For over 30 years, the school as worked with a number of university, private, and public partners to lead the way in researching the renewable energy and environmental applications of the shrub willow. This renewable resources is proving to be a climate-neutral fuel that can be grown on underutilized and marginal lands making it a good candidate for sparking economic development in rural and formerly-industrial areas.

Quick Facts

15

Middlebury College

STARS Score: 72.61

It may be have seemed like an ambitious goal, but Middlebury aimed to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2016. Through energy conservation efforts, exploring renewable fuel sources and ongoing education about green and sustainable advancements, this Vermont college accomplished this goal.

Compost and recycling efforts have diverted more than 60% of the waste at this Champlain Valley institution, and all construction on new buildings must be LEED certified. Whole buildings have been recycled in an effort to reduce and reuse at Middlebury, and sustainable tech such as groundwater exchange air-conditioning, low-flow faucets and toilets and solar panels are just some of the ways Middlebury is maintaining a commitment to sustainability.

Middlebury is a relatively small town located in the beautiful Champlain Valley, which rests between the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. One of the highlights for ski and snowboarding aficionados is the Middlebury College Snow Bowl, where there are 17 trails. The college’s proximity to the lush mountains and valleys of Vermont makes it a perfect observatory for stewards of the planet to gain experiential learning in the field.

Quick Facts

  • All freshmen at Middlebury are asked to spend their first year on-campus in one of five commons, where they will have access to more than 150 clubs and activities.
  • Retention rates at Middlebury in 2013 were 95% for first-year undergraduates, and the college reports a 94% graduation rate during that same time frame.