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 39 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sustainable Oshkosh is home to the branch of the University of Wisconsin responsible for the Environmental Research Innovation Center (ERIC). Here, scientists perform testing on local water samples, develop renewable energy sources and work with UW-Oshkosh faculty to expand degree programs in fields like environmental science, natural resource protection and sustainability.
As the campus grows, so do its environmentally-sound building practices. Solar panels and roofs, ground source geothermal climate control tech, bioswales and green transportation accommodations are only a few of the ways Oshkosh is neutralizing its carbon footprint.
Academically, students at Oshkosh can immerse themselves in environmental studies, a minor in social justice, a sustainability management minor or a sustainability management master's.
Not an environmental science major but still want a chance to get involved? Oshkosh offers many sustainability-themed faculty-led trips abroad.
The conservation group Monarch Watch has designate UW-Oshkosh as a "monarch way station"; the college hopes to support a struggling monarch butterfly population by planting butterfly-friendly landscaping.
Oshkosh is situated along the Fox River, within walking distance from downtown shopping and entertainment and roughly three hours outside of Chicago.
It may be an ambitious goal, but Middlebury aims 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 is well on its way.
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.
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.
CU-Boulder leads the vanguard in eco-friendly institutions. This is largely due to the school's CU Environmental Center, which, founded in 1970 as the Eco-Center, remains the nation's largest on-campus and student-led environmental organization. The center's initiatives cover the breadth of environmental responsibilities, including doggedly monitoring the school's carbon emissions, campaigning for zero on-campus waste, green transportation (including carpool systems for commuters) and pushing for campus-wide environmental policies to be enacted.
While the center is certainly the major selling point of the school's green-living efforts, the ethics of environmentalism are well represented in its academics. Majors that emphasize environmental education include Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences and, of course, Environmental Studies, to name just a few. The forthcoming School of the Environment and Sustainability at CU-Boulder will foster collaboration and promote greater synergies among the many programs centered on themes in the environment and sustainability across the CU-Boulder campus.
CU-Boulder has consecutively been ranked as one of the greenest schools in the U.S. by the Sierra Club.
CU-Boulder’s emission of global greenhouse gases (GHG) has flattened despite a nearly 19 percent growth in campus facilities since 2005. CU-Boulder expects to attain its goal of a 20 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2020.
A total of 18 CU-Boulder facilities have received LEED certifications -- a U.S. benchmark for sustainable building design, construction and maintenance -- including five LEED platinum and 11 LEED gold ratings.
CU-Boulder is nearly at a 45 percent recycling rate -- halfway to its goal of a 90 percent recycling rate by 2020. A new recycling center on main campus just opened. Coupled with expanded recycling efforts such as compost collections in all campus facilities, CU-Boulder expects to attain zero-waste -- or near it -- by 2020.
In 2012, all student government buildings at CU-Boulder achieved carbon neutrality.
More than 175 species of wildlife and 200 plant species call Emory University home. Half of the college’s 700-acre campus is a protected area for students and faculty to help realize sustainability initiatives. Emory leads the nation in its construction of LEED-certified buildings, as well. Such efforts have earned the college consistent recognition for their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.
The campus has also earned accolades for its robust offerings in the way of academics in the study of environmental science. Professors at Emory work sustainable science into many degree programs, and Emory students have studied under the Dalai Lama, Salman Rushdie and activist Desmond Tutu. Courses like environmental journalism and theology as social protest demonstrate the breadth of scholarly offerings at EU in the way of sustainability.
This green college is located in a suburb near downtown Atlanta. Not far from the Chattahoochee River National Area, students at Emory are in a prime location to explore research opportunities close to campus.
The student-teacher ratio at Emory is 14:1. The graduation rate at this college in 2013 was 90% for undergraduates, and the first-year retention rate was 94%.
Emory has been recognized by the Princeton Review, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and the Washington Post for its outstanding commitment to sustainability.
First- and second-year students are required to live on campus at EU; many go on to reside at Emory for the duration of their four-year degree program.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This Silicon Valley Jesuit institution emphasizes a sustainable and environmentally conscious curriculum. On campus, the college continues to invest in green initiatives. The college has a fleet of energy efficient vehicles, has managed to divert more than half of its waste from landfills thanks to recycling efforts, aggressively invested in HVAC upgrades in order to reduce its energy consumption and more. The campus aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2020.
Students who hold a bachelor's in engineering or physics might be interested in Santa Clara’s Master of Science in Sustainable Energy. This curriculum touches on subjects like alternative energy, smart grid technology and energy public policy. There are also other curriculums and pathways, such as leading people, organizations and social change, global health and food, hunger, poverty and the environment.
Santa Clara is outfitted beautifully in Mission Revival architecture. Despite its urban location, SCU offers students an intimate campus, with an average student-teacher ratio of only 12:1. Student satisfaction is high, thanks in part to the one-on-one focus students receive. Adjacent to San Jose, this campus is located at the southern tip of the Bay area.
The Santa Clara University’s sustainability efforts have been recognized by more than a dozen agencies, including the Princeton Review, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Protection Agency and Silicon Valley Power.
In 2014, the college offered nearly 800 courses with an environmental or sustainability focus.
SLURP, an undergraduate academic program at SCU is open to all disciplines and allows for research opportunities in sustainability. Students enrolled in SLURP get a direct opportunity to impact energy conservation on-campus.
The first public university in the U.S., UNC Chapel Hill is a mutli-campus institution comprised of 16 other universities. Ranked consistently by such respected institutions as the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report, this research institution is celebrated for its outstanding academics.
The university also leads the nation in service learning, donating more than 1.7 million hours worth of community-based experiences in 2012-13.
UNC has invested exemplary time and funds towards the sustainability outfitting of their campus. Chapel Hill offers students a fare-free transportation system, helping to cut carbon emissions. The campus diverted nearly half of their waste from landfills in 2013 thanks to aggressive recycling initiatives. Every new building at this campus since 2011 has been LEED certified, and some installations conserve resources and feature green roofs, cisterns, permeable pavement parking lots and infiltration beds.
UNC offers 460 different undergraduate courses in 52 departments that incorporate sustainability themes or address sustainability challenges.
The Botanical Gardens at UNC collect rainwater in underground cisterns, was constructed using 96% recycled materials and porous pavement of the newly installed parking lot filters rainwater before allowing it to enter neighboring streams.
Arizona State University continues to demonstrate leadership in sustainability, with climate neutrality, zero solid and water waste, active engagement and principled practice guiding its many sustainability initiatives. Its School of Sustainability is the first of its kind in the U.S.: a comprehensive degree-granting program with a transdisciplinary focus on finding real-world solutions to our most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges. The school – which also offers degrees online – serves as a model for universities around the world.
ASU's commitment to sustainability extends well beyond the classroom. Through programs like GlobalResolve and the Global Sustainability Solutions Services, the university connects with communities and partners around the world to advance education, discovery and innovative solutions.
ASU has one of the country's largest distributed solar systems, providing the university with more than 24 MW of power. It has a LEED-Silver minimum construction mandate, offers "green bins" where students can deposit compostable food waste, reuses 12 tons of compost materials from its landscaping and has one of the most profitable campus Farmers Markets. Additionally, the college's entire Tempe campus is a nationally-recognized Arboretum – home to more than 900 species of flourishing plant life from around the world.
Academic opportunities abound for undergraduate and graduate students at ASU’s School of Sustainability. Nearly 100% of sustainability graduates are gainfully employed or enrolled in advanced studies.
ASU has no shortage of opportunities for students to get real-world experience in sustainability, both locally and abroad – Global Sustainability Studies Program is just one example.
With a network of over 350 sustainability scientists and scholars across the university, sustainability research opportunities with programs like the Center for Sustainable Health are plentiful.
Greensboro, as its name suggests, is rich in greenery. The third-largest city in North Carolina, this campus is located in the Piedmont Triangle halfway between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Two hours west are the Blue Ridge Mountains, while the Atlantic Ocean is 3.5 miles to the east. Greensboro features more than 170 parks and gardens, as well as miles of greenways perfect for hiking, biking, golf, tennis.
Greensboro wants to keep green living in the foreground for a new generation of students. The campus offers a broad, interdisciplinary degree in environmental studies and sustainability. Students will study ecosystems, climate, pollution and natural resources alongside topics like public policy, economics and ethics. A sustainability minor is also available.
Students pursuing environmental and sustainability studies take part in an exciting range of internship opportunities, including state parks, Greensboro Natural Science Center, the Piedmont Environmental Center, the Piedmont Land Conservancy, the North Carolina Sierra Club and the Office of Sustainability at UNCG.
Greensboro’s sustainability students often choose to study abroad thanks to the great number of opportunities to travel available to environmental studies majors.
The college offers a Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality program that teaches students the "triple bottom line goals of economic viability (profit), social responsibility (people), and environmental protection (planet)."
Like most campuses in the U.S., UNCG is working towards building a greener campus, and is currently pursuing more efficient waste, water and energy consumption initiatives.
Learn lakeside at Greenville’s picturesque Furman University. Furman students are required to live on campus, and have access to environmental living-learning communities, sustainability-focused study abroad programs, and a protected rail-trail for easy biking to two downtown districts. Another graduation requirement is the attendance of 36 or more community events alongside their peers, in an effort to foster a sense of community and leadership.
Furman’s sustainability efforts are in keeping with national standards: the college is working to conserve, reduce and recycle on campus, is constructing green buildings, provides students with alternative transportation, and has a thriving campus farm. The university hopes to achieve carbon neutrality by 2026.
The Shi Center for Sustainability, the campus think-tank for sustainability, brings educators and students together with the common goal of creating environmental change in the greater community.
Students at Furman can choose to study sustainability from any of 24 departmental perspectives, major in sustainability science, or take part in paid applied sustainability systems research.
Outcomes at Furman are exemplary. The student-teacher ratio at this campus is a modest 11:1. The retention rate in 2012-13 was 87%; the graduation rate was 84%.
Climate scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are national leaders in their field. For this reason, UMass was selected by the federal government to lead a consortium of seven universities. The college also plays host to a new statewide initiative, the Northeast Climate Science Center, which is dedicated to measuring climate change and other environmental analytics.
This campus is one of the only public universities in the U.S. to install permaculture gardens on-campus. These agricultural initiatives educate students about sound, sustainable farming practices, while also supplying the campus with fresh, organic produce. In 2013, the college became the largest provider in the country to take part in the Real Food Campus Commitment. This pledge demonstrates the university’s continued commitment to implementing green policies that enrich the environment and the lives of the students on-campus.
Students at UMass live and learn in the scenic Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. The site is 90 miles from Boston and 175 miles from New York City. For students interested in climate-change, environmental studies and sustainability, there are 25 relevant undergraduate majors and more than 300 courses on offer with a similar focus.
UMass is rated the 25th most efficient among top-rated national universities by U.S. News & World Report and has been recognized for its commitment to leadership in sustainability, value and excellence in education.
Amherst is committed to achieving total carbon neutrality by the year 2050.
UMass is a tobacco-free campus. All first-year students must reside on-campus, and are encouraged to take part in one of more than 200 student organizations on the college grounds.
The college works consistently to reduce its energy consumption, and intends to reduce its energy consumption by 40% come 2025. This is also the year that the Urbana campus hopes to achieve carbon neutrality.
Students at the University of Illinois can major in such environmentally-focused studies as Crop Sciences, Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability and Environmental Economics and Policy. There are many more undergraduate and graduate programs available, including an option to minor in sustainability.
Beginning in the spring of 2015, the campus broke ground on a 20.8-acre, 5.87-megawatt solar farm that will make U of I one of only ten solar campuses in the U.S. and account for 2% of the colleges energy needs.
Clustered around the Washington, D.C. area, George Mason’s class sizes are relatively small for an institution of its size and influence. Most classrooms have 25 to 30 students, and an average student-teacher ratio of 16:1.
The campus offers nine undergraduate degrees with a focus on sustainability, and over 70 courses that span the disciplines. The campus is equipped with ten green research centers, each committed to the development and maintenance of energy and water conservation, ecosystem preservation and the advocacy of sustainable infrastructures. Undergraduate and graduate students alike have the opportunity to conduct original research, and the research on climate change at George Mason has been impressive over the last decade.
Research funding, service-learning opportunities and internships through sustainability studies are all available to students.
Students can also study conservation biology in a unique, up-close-and-personal setting via the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation. Here, students will work with endangered animals such as clouded leopards, red pandas, Przewalski horses and other endangered species.
Campus Living Learning Communities foster sustainability through LLC residential learning cooperatives. Group learning, lively Earthwise discussion and off-campus experiential learning are some of the benefits of this program.
George Washington University was chartered by Congress and founded in the early 1800s. Located in the Foggy Bottom District of Washington, D.C., this campus is ideal for the budding political science major and those who seek an urban campus experience.
Despite its metropolitan bent, the university emphasizes a future rich with well-managed resources that allows individuals and communities alike to thrive. GWU continues to build onto its green campus, which already houses bike-sharing resources, electric car-charging stations, solar thermal hot water, green roofs and stormwater capture.
Urban Food Task Force is another sustainable initiative in place at GWU. This program intends to identify and implement scholarship and research of sustainable urban food policies, healthy eating and food preparation. In addition, the Adventure Bound programs at George Washington guides students on outdoor excursions hiking, kayaking and horseback riding.
Although the campus is large, the average student-teacher ratio at GWU is only 13:1.
GWU is within walking distance of the Washington Monument and the National Mall and is only four blocks from the White House.
Freshmen, sophomores and juniors (as of 2018) are required to reside on-campus.
Portland State University believes universities and public research institutions are uniquely poised to solve some of the world’s most pressing concerns about the planet’s longevity. That is why the institution adopted the Declaration of Support for Sustainability in 2005. Today, this subject is central to the college’s vision, a foundational learning outcome for students and an area of expertise for the institution.
Portland State University is the home of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions. This earth-focused brain trust is funded through a 10-year investment from the Miller Foundation. The ISS focuses on supporting relevant research, integrating sustainability into university curriculum, creating sustainability learning opportunities for students both inside and outside the classroom, and developing community partnerships to improve the sustainability of the region at large. PSU’s campus features several LEED-certified buildings and also offers a smart transportation system for students.
PSU works to reduce its carbon footprint by monitoring its sustainability benchmarks, updating its policies and planning new conservation and greening goals.
The campus has earned national recognition from many organizations for its ongoing environmental studies research and sustainability initiatives.
Portland’s history of progressive attitudes has earned it the reputation of being one of the country’s most livable cities and offers students access to the abundant natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest’s surf, trails and slopes.
Cornell's Sustainable Campus is part of the university's "unwavering commitment to leave a positive impact on the world." The westernmost Ivy League college in the U.S., Cornell provides students with scholarships, research opportunities and the opportunity to contribute to fashioning a more sustainable lifestyle for all.
The university accomplishes this by offering a sustainability focus in 70% of their departments. Cornell is one of the only colleges in the country to offer a minor in climate change. By 2035, the college intends to achieve net-zero carbon neutrality by investing millions in energy-conservation projects, pursuing renewable energy, and implementing campus-wide sustainability engagement programs.
Located in Ithaca, this 2,456-acre campus in offers views of two gorges, a botanical garden that spans 35 acres and a 100-acre arboretum. Students can participate in a number of programs that educate the public about climate change and global warming.
Cornell boasts more than 20 programs across a broad range of disciplines that offer a focus in sustainability, including Civil and Environmental Engineering, Design and Environmental Analysis and Plant Sciences.
The student-teacher ratio at this private college is 12:1, and the undergraduate retention rate for 2012-13 was 97%.
Cornell was ranked #6 in Princeton Review's 2015 Guides to 353 Green Colleges and was #5 on the Sierra Club list of Cool Schools in the U.S.
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.
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.
The Advanced Technology Education Center at KCC houses classrooms, labs and other facilities to offer hands-on technical training for sustainability-related fields like wind generation, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic systems and electrical instruction.
The campus uses a range of these alternative energy sources to power learning on-site, including wind-generated power, photovoltaic "green" roofs, unique ice storage HVAC systems and geothermal and solar thermal energy. Kankakee College encourages students and faculty to participate in aggressive recycling initiatives and conservation efforts and hopes to make Kankakee synonymous with sustainability.
Kankakee has organized the courses they offer that have a sustainability or environmental emphasis into an easy-to-access online list.
This community college offers an associate program in renewable energy studies, the A.A.S. in Renewable Energy, as well as a certificate program in Sustainable Resource Management.
The student-teacher ratio at Kanakee Community College is a modest 15:1.
New Hampshire’s only land, space, and sea grant public institution, the University of New Hampshire combines the charm of a New England liberal arts campus with the prestige of a research university. Sustainability is a core value at UNH. It shapes our culture, informs our behavior, and is a guiding principle of everything we do. The university is home to the oldest endowed sustainability office in the nation, the Sustainability Institute. The Sustainability Institute was developed to reflect this belief system, and act as convener, cultivator and champion of sustainability on campus, in the state and region, and around the world.
The University of New Hampshire is proud to offer programs, certificates, and classes that deal directly with sustainability. Many degrees offer concentrations in sustainability such as Oceanography, Environmental Sciences and Outdoor Education, as well as the innovative dual major in EcoGastronomy. UNH continues to develop more degree programs, such as a dual major in sustainability due to launch in the coming year.
UNH is an early adopter to campus-wide green initiatives and building updates such as a revolving energy efficiency fund, a cogeneration plant powered by landfill gas, solar panel installation, and a greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
For students interested in studying abroad, there are many programs at UNH that combine sustainability and an international experience. Examples include the EcoQuest program in New Zealand that focuses on interdisciplinary sustainability studies, and the EcoGastronomy study abroad programs in Italy and France.
UNH’s award-winning dining ensures that campus dining is not only delicious, but local and sustainable as well. Fruits and vegetables grown on campus farms are often featured on the menu, all food waste from the dining hall is pulped and composted on campus, and UNH Dining hosts a community-wide Local Harvest Feast every fall of exclusively local foods.
Situated on 800 acres, 400 of which consist of preserved and restored uplands and wetlands, this campus features a 15-acre solar field that provides the school with over 80% of the energy needed to operate several buildings. Lake installations on campus have become home for a large sample of wildlife, promoting a better ecology around the campus.
Fostering a sustainable environment is one of the core tenets of the FGCU’s mission. From the pursual of LEED certification for new buildings to the installation of solar panels and a thermal storage plant, Florida Gulf Coast is working to invest in a sustainable future.
Students at FGCU may be interested in pursuing a degree in environmental engineering. In this program, students learn about ecosystems, human health and the environment. Hands-on learning opportunities are a fantastic supplement to these studies and available in spades through the Office of Service Learning & Civic Engagement.
Between 2013 and 2014, students donated nearly 20,000 hours of community service as part of a service-learning initiative at FGCU.
81% of students at this university received some form of financial aid during their first year of studies during the 2012-13 school year.
Since the college opened in 1997, FGCU has been awarded $184.8 million in total research grants and funding.
Wartburg College, a school with Evangelical ties, nurtures and challenges students to strive for lives rich in service and leadership. The curriculum focuses on global and multicultural education, leadership and experiential learning. Since faith informs Wartburg's academics, there is a strong commitment to educating the whole person, as well as on transformative education.
Responsible stewardship of the environment is a logical focus of such a service-oriented institution. Students often choose to enroll in the Environmental Science program, which prepares them for a career in conservation biology, environmental law and policy and renewable energies. Students also have the chance to see conservation and sustainability at work in Wartburg’s own sustainability initiatives.
Columbia University is an Ivy League institution located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights in the upper westside. Attractions nearby include the Guggenheim Museum, Grant’s Tomb and Central Park.
Columbia aims to model energy conservation by decreasing consumption and reducing their carbon footprint. The campus uses recycled materials for new-building construction (pursuant to LEED standards), encouraging students to reduce energy use and waste output and to adopt "greener" ways. The campus aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions dramatically in the next decade as part of a pledge to cut New York’s emissions by 80% collectively.
Academic opportunities to explore the environment, green construction and sustainability are rich at Columbia. The campus offers 24 such programs, including a sustainable development major and master's program.
More than 90% of students live on-campus at Columbia, some in historic brownstones (though these are primarily reserved for Greek life on-campus).
Water-bottle filling stations on campus are one way Columbia has reduced their waste output.
One notable sustainability effort at Columbia involves commencement: undergraduate and graduate students wear "green gowns" when they walk, each made from 23 recycled plastic bottles.
STARS Score: 66.99
Macalester’s modern campus is steeped in tradition. One of those traditions is a history of producing ethical leaders. Located in the Twin Cities, the campus is nested inside a quaint residential area.
With a focus on service learning, transformative education is a hallmark of the curriculum at Macalester College. Students interested in a sustainability program can visit the EcoHouse. This 1950s era home has been outfitted with solar panels and green technologies to give students the chance to experience the nuts and bolts of alternative fuel. Using student-leveraged feedback, advancements are being made in the application of alternative energy.
Students who elect to participate in the Environmental Studies at Macalester can expect to take part in hands-on learning. Case studies inform didactic learning, problem-solving strategies and community involvement are a major component of learning in this environmental curriculum. Topics addressed in this program include environmental issues at the local and global levels.
70% of the classes taught at Macalester College have 20 students are fewer, and the average student-teacher ratio is only 10:1.
Macalester aims to become carbon neutral by 2025.
The graduation rate at Macalester College during the 2013-2014 school year was 81%.
The State University of New York at Cortland (SUNY Cortland) has reduced their carbon footprint through a commitment to reduction and recycling. The campus offers alternative transportation options like bike-share, carpooling and electric vehicles, which has significantly reduced annual emissions. First-year students at SUNY are required to live on-campus, cutting down on the number of commuters to and from the site annually.
Students interested in sustainability education will explore the physics of sustainable energy systems as a graduate student. This degree prepares students for a career in solar thermal power, ocean energy or architecture and design. Undergraduates can choose to explore conservation biology, physics and outdoor recreation programs for a chance to investigate more broad and interdisciplinary studies in the environmental sciences.
SUNY Cortland was the first institution out of the 64-campus SUNY system to achieve full operation of their facilities using only renewable electrical energy sources.
Each year the campus hires 16 "Green Reps" to act as the long arm of the sustainability department at SUNY, offering guidance and tips to trim the fat on waste production on the campus at-large.
All students at SUNY are welcome to participate in the Model Garden, which was established in 2013 to demonstrate ecologically sustainable planting and harvest in an urban setting.
Pennsylvania State University’s campus has been heralded as beautiful, research-oriented, and a leader in sustainability and environmental studies. Surrounded by mountains, this campus rests in a valley at the center of the state, but is also near to hiking and skiing opportunities. For this reason, environmental and sustainability programs are a popular choice for prospective students. There are no shortage of such degree options for undergraduate and graduate students alike, and the college also offers many minors for interdisciplinary studies.
Improving the lives of others and fostering a global perspective are key tenets of an education at Pennsylvania State University. For that reason, service learning and hands-on experience are an important part of a degree in sustainability at Penn State. Students take part in internships, fellowships and research with the EPA, Penn State and the U.S Dept. of Defense. Clubs and student organizations, such as the beekeeper’s club or community gardens, give students a chance to network and give back in equal measure, finding a foothold in a specialty that interests them the most.
Beginning in 2014, every building on campus will possess composting and recycling capabilities. The university has also invested in green tech, local food sourcing and transportation initiatives.
Freshmen are encouraged to live in one of five housing areas on campus at Penn State. The retention rate for the 2012-13 school year at this green campus was a whopping 92%; the graduation rate for that same year was 85%.
Penn State has received many accolades for their quality programs, but on campus and online. Environmental studies has been nationally ranked according to the National Science Foundation, U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger's and more.
The campus at Colgate enrolls roughly as many students as the population of the friendly town of Hamilton. The facilities are located on a hillside, offering students immaculate grounds and carefully preserved architecture circa 1827. Undergraduates are required to spend their first three years on-campus at Colgate; many of these (approximately half of the student body) participate in Greek life.
Sustainability at Colgate is a way of life, incorporated into the curriculum and the facility itself. Through climate action planning, alternative transportation and waste minimization and recycling, the campus will achieve a sustainable and environmentally-viable campus. Students can pursue a degree in environmental studies at Colgate, where they will prepare for rewarding careers in environmental biology, geography and economics. An interdisciplinary focus allows students to get the most out of their degree at CU, enrolling in courses that most closely match their goals after graduation.
The student-faculty ratio at Colgate is an intimate 9:1, ensuring one-on-one interaction between faculty and students.
Unity has a long-standing reputation as one of the most comprehensive environmental colleges in the U.S. The institution’s focus on sustainable science and focus on practical solutions to modern ecological issues has become a strong voice in the battle to neutralize climate change.
Nova Trips are required for all incoming Unity students. During this distinctive experience, students will become oriented to the Unity experience and experience personal growth and begin their journey as stewards of the environment.
Research and internships are a distinguishing characteristic of an environmental science degree at Unity. Off-campus activities cement core concepts and guide students toward a deeper understanding of their chosen major.
Unity College’s field-and-forested campus offers scenic views of Lake Winnecook, and is informed by Maine’s rocky Atlantic coast and versatile ecosystems.
Babson is unique in that every discipline is informed by a curriculum that stresses sustainability and entrepreneurship. Babson places a strong emphasis on Social, Environmental, Economic Responsibility, and Sustainability (SEERS); these concepts are core tenets of the experience at Babson. Students learn that "economic and social value creation are not mutually exclusive, but instead integral to each other." By presenting the task of changing policies and practices regarding sustainability in a business framework, Babson is preparing students to enact real change in the climate of environmental science.
Sustainability and social responsibility are addressed in nearly every course on campus, but Babson is also inclined to practice what they preach. The college aims to achieve carbon-neutral status by 2050 and offers a handful of initiatives on-campus that further this goal.
Babson has ranked first in the country for two decades running by U.S. News & World Report for its unparalleled focus on producing thoughtful and effective leaders.
A selective college, this institution admits 28% of its applicants each year. Class sizes are small, with an average student-teacher ratio of just 14:1.
Undergraduates at Babson may only enroll in one curriculum: a one-of-a-kind business management degree with a broad scope, designed to prepare students for success across disciplines.
Grand Valley State University is known locally and globally for their applied sustainability on-campus and in the community. In regard to its on-site initiatives, the university uses local vendors on campus, advocates for composting and recyclable consumer materials whenever possible and participates in clean-up initiatives like Adopt-a-Highway. Grand Valley composts all of its food waste, using it in their community garden. This and many other waste-reduction programs help GVSU work toward its goal of being a zero-waste institution.
Natural resource management and liberal studies with an emphasis in sustainability are two of the majors available for students at Grand Valley, as well as several minors that focus on integrated green lifestyles in business and career settings. The college offers more than 200 sustainability-focused courses in more than 30 departments.
With three campuses in Chicago (and one in Rome), the Loyola University network makes the school the largest private Catholic college in the country. Green living advocacy falls right in line with Loyola's focus on a holistic, transformative education that endeavors to educate students intellectually, physically, socially and spiritually. Hands-on learning and classrooms with a student-teacher ratio of just 14:1 contribute to the college’s 85% retention rate.
Located in the heart of Chicago, this cosmopolitan campus is within walking distance of dozens of museums and acclaimed restaurants, theaters, art galleries and venues. More than 550 parks dot the city, such as the iconic Millennium, Grant and Lincoln Park.
The efforts at UCCS to keep emissions and waste to a minimum are in line with Colorado State’s Greening Initiative. The Colorado Greening of State calls for an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and this goal is being reached thanks to businesses and agencies like UCCS that invest in clean technologies, transportation and waste management alternatives. UCCS has retrofitted and updated appliances on-campus, invested student research and hours to implementing programs and enterprises that enhance sustainability and rejuvenated plant life and forestry losses in the state, and there are more green works to come.
The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies offers four tracks for students interested in learning about ways to positively impact the world’s sustainability issues. Bachelor's and master’s students can learn about geology, sustainable development and more, with small class sizes and amples hands-on research opportunities.
The fastest-growing university in Colorado, the campus is taking steps to become increasingly sustainable: implementing tray-less dining, student-farmed organic food production, composting and bike/vehicle sharing and zero-waste initiatives.
UCCS was recognized on the Green Honor Roll at Princeton Review in 2014 and pursues LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for all new buildings.
Sustainability is incorporated in the General Education Compass Curriculum for all UCCS undergraduates.
Reducing the carbon footprint at Northern Arizona University has shaped the academic landscape for its students and the Flagstaff community. The campus delivers instruction digitally to diminish paper waste. It also promotes water conservation by funding the replacement of old shower heads and encouraging students to use water conservatively. Online learning and green computing are other initiatives at NAU that conserve resources without compromising the school's academic excellence.
Located at the base of the San Francisco peaks, this historic town has historically been a railway and lumber community. In addition to a rustic downtown scene, the community offers an arboretum, observatory (where Pluto was discovered in 1930), a destination lodge for skiers and snowboarders state-wide and pristine, forested wilderness for environmental science majors to explore.
Social transformation on-campus is not confined to sustainable building and operations. The School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Stability extends programs to undergraduate and graduate students in subjects like geology, climate sciences and solutions and education in earth science.
Located in the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest, the nationally-ranked forestry program at NAU offers students the benefit of access to five life zones within fifty miles of campus.
NAU’s community environment programs focus on interdisciplinary studies that focus on the complex issues surrounding sustainability, social justice and relevant environmental issues.
Western Michigan University has largely earned its reputation as a green campus thanks to their transportation infrastructure. The college has electric charging stations, opts for a green fleet of vehicles for on-campus use and is constructed with bike- and pedestrian-friendly design in mind.
Student permaculture gardens generate funds for the sustainability efforts at WMU and foster organic eating and farming practices for students and the public. The college’s EcoMug program is a one-of-a-kind effort to reduce waste, and the Office for Sustainability’s Solid Waste Reduction works with every department on campus to realize a zero-waste policy.
Annual events such as RecycleMania and EcoThon encourage school-wide eco-conscious awareness. The Office of Sustainability also conducts research on the campus' recycling initiatives and publishes guides promoting sustainability.
WMU has received consistent accolades for its ongoing commitment to sustainability and green practices, including a Climate Leadership award from Second Nature.
The campus is located near many cultural and recreational points of interest; it is within 40 minutes of the beaches of Lake Michigan, and the town’s attractions include a 35-mile bike trail in-construction and the acclaimed Kalamazoo Air Zoo amusement park.
For Bard College, sustainability is an indelible part of the college’s identity. Twenty-five buildings on campus at this private liberal arts college are powered by geothermal energy, which provides hot water and electricity to the facilities on its intimate, park-like campus. Overlooking the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson River, this institution is one of the many Red Hook businesses working to reduce the town’s energy consumption by participating in the 10% Red Hook Challenge.
The campus’ student-run organic farm, Bard College Farm, connects Bard to the regional agricultural community, educates students about green farm-to-table practices and provides organic, fresh food to the on-site dining hall. Disposable wares and utensils served from the BC dining hall are 100% compostable, and food is served without a tray in order to save energy and resources.
In 2015, a whopping 20,486 pounds of food was harvested from the Bard College Farm and served to the community. The College Farm also recently built a cold storage facility to better their harvesting outcomes.
The list of 39 greenest colleges and universities below was generated using the STARS Participants & Reports database. Each of these higher-learning institutions has earned a ‘Gold’ rating from STARS, signifying an overall score of 65 to 84. (At this time, there are not any U.S. schools to have earned the ‘Platinum’ rating). In order to receive a Gold rating, an academic institution must earn points in the following areas:
Academics: Curriculum and Research
This area covers courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, ‘sustainability literacy’ among students, incentives for introducing more courses that tackle environmental topics, and the campus’ status as a ‘living laboratory.’
Engagement: Campus Engagement and Community Engagement
This area explores ways that students and faculty members seek to educate others, advocate for green causes on-campus and within the local community, and participate in discussions about environmental policies and engagement among different stakeholders.
Operations: Air & Climate, Buildings, Dining Services, Energy, Grounds, Purchasing, Transportation, Waste, and Water
This area considers specific projects and retrofits that have been installed on-campus in order to reduce energy consumption and waste. These might include:
A community garden where students grow produce for dining facilities
A campus-wide light bulb exchange to recycle light bulbs and prevent them from entering landfills.
A student and faculty bike exchange program
Solar panels, wind turbines, biomass generators, and other alternative energy sources
Wastewater treatment systems for buildings and residence halls
Hybrid vehicles in the campus transportation fleet
This area examines how effectively colleges and universities enable students and faculty members to take part in green initiatives. Points are also awarded in this category to schools that promote diversity, foster a culture of inclusion, and take measures to increase on-campus safety and wellness.
Four additional points (known as ‘Innovation Credits’) may be awarded to schools that introduce green initiatives and programs that are deemed especially creative and resourceful. For more information on the STARS Rating criteria, please check out pages 18-19 of the Stars 2.0 Technical Manual.
How to Interpret the Data
Academic institutions that wish to promote green causes are not hindered by the number of enrolled students. Our list contains schools with more than 40,000 students like New York University, the University of Washington, and Arizona State University, as well as institutions with fewer than 2,500 enrolled students, such as Oberlin College, Pomona College, and Chatham University.
Please note that our list is divided into two sections. Numbers 1-32 represent the greenest colleges and universities that have earned a Gold rating and elected to share their final score online. These schools are ranked in descending order by score. The remaining 18 schools have chosen not to share their final score, and are listed alphabetically. For this reason, it’s possible that some of the final 18 greenest schools actually earned a higher score than those in the first group of 32.