7 Colleges And Universities Leading The Way In Sustainability


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As global warming’s effects become more apparent, colleges and universities worldwide are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact. The many buildings, students and resources consumed on campus can quickly create high carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. These seven colleges and universities are leading the way with innovative sustainability programs.

1. American University

American University in Washington, DC, is a leader among higher education institutions striving for sustainability. Since 2010, American University has instituted a zero-waste policy on campus. The program allows students to easily discard and recycle waste of all kinds, providing an education about sustainability along with academics.

Bins are clearly labeled for landfill, compost and mixed recycling. The compost bin is for food waste, coffee filters and napkins. Students dispose of chip bags, disposable face masks and candy wrappers in the landfill bin, and the mixed recycling bin contains plastic bottles, shampoo bottles, coffee cups, junk mail and more.

The university now operates entirely on renewable energy with solar panels, and ten LEED-certified buildings. It offsets its carbon emissions by planting trees and conducting landfill methane projects.

2. Stanford University

Located near San Francisco, CA, Stanford is one of the U.S.’s leading academic institutions and is quickly becoming a pillar of sustainability. In September 2022, Stanford opened the Doerr School of Sustainability, the first new school from the institution since 1948. Stanford named the school after John Doerr, a Stanford donor and advocate for climate change policies.

The institution significantly reduces emissions by locally sourcing food from on-campus or local suppliers. Stanford’s BeWell Community Gardens program has 200 plots growing fruits, vegetables and herbs. The University also has a My Cardinal Green program where students can get personalized recommendations on reducing their carbon footprint on campus and earn rewards.

3. Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, sits in the middle of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Though a small school in a small city, the university has actively sought out opportunities to impact the environment positively through sustainable practices such as local food sourcing, with $1 million invested in local food in the 2019-2020 academic year.

Appalachian State offers 25 sustainability-focused and -related degree programs, with students able to participate in research that impacts the future. Each year the university participates in the American Solar Challenge, where students design a solar-powered vehicle and compete in races. In 2022, Appalachian State won the award for best electrical design.

4. Harvard University

Harvard University, located in Cambridge, MA, is an Ivy League sustainability leader, upheld by the robust, progressive activism of its faculty and students.

The University provides a convenient single-stream recycling program that debuted in 2009, making recycling easier for students and faculty because all recyclable materials go into the same bin. Intelligent machinery separates the materials by category once it arrives at the recycling plant.

Harvard is also following in the footsteps of many organizations abiding by the Paris Climate Agreement, setting a goal to eliminate all fossil fuel use on campus by 2050. This initiative includes shifting to an all-electric vehicle fleet, and using solar and wind energy to power buildings.

5. University Of Washington

Practicing sustainability is easier if you have friends to encourage and support environmentally friendly practices. The University of Washington makes that easy with over 30 student groups focusing on sustainability. The programs study sustainability in various fields so students can participate in any major. For example, there are programs for those interested in law, farming, engineering, conservation and more.

Located in Seattle, a city quickly rising among young people because of its desirable jobs and eco-friendly practices, the school also uses hydropower and solar arrays to produce much of its electricity on campus.

6. University Of Technology Sydney

Sustainability isn’t an idea exclusive to American colleges and universities. The University of Technology Sydney is in the inner-city suburb of Ultimo, in New South Wales, Australia, and its major sustainability effort to eliminate plastic has already been successful.

In 2019, the university started its plastic-free plan to phase out single-use plastics to protect wildlife, especially birds that die from ingesting plastic waste. In addition to education and awareness campaigns, the initiative led to the college opening a plastic-free food court so students can enjoy their meals with less negative environmental impact.

7. Kalamazoo College

After each semester, thousands of students in college graduate and turn their attention to professional careers. Graduating for many means getting rid of stuff in their apartments and dorms, much of which goes to waste. But Kalamazoo College in southwestern Michigan helps students reduce their environmental impact.

Kalamazoo College has an initiative called the Resource Exchange Program (REP). Here, students donate items they no longer need, such as textbooks, desk lamps, dorm decor and other necessities for college students. The REP is part of a larger, extensive 5-year climate action plan acknowledging their community to be “environmental citizens” and people that understand a larger global issue that is occurring.

Easy Steps Students Can Take To Practice Sustainability

These universities have lofty goals and take steps daily to meet them, but how can off-campus students practice sustainability and save money in the process?

SHOP MINDFULLY. Living in off-campus housing can be expensive for students — in fact, over 60% of colleges incorrectly estimate the amount of money it takes to live. You can help your budget and the environment by shopping mindfully, buying items in bulk, and utilizing frozen and non-perishable foods. This will reduce the number of trips to the grocery store and the fuel you consume by driving your car.

THINK REUSABLE. Another way to save money and be environmentally conscious is to think reusable. For example, use a thermos for your water and coffee instead of paper and plastic cups. Reusability also goes for your clothes and furniture; use thrift stores to shop for used clothing, couches and other items to prevent waste in a landfill.

CONSERVE ELECTRICITY. Switch your lightbulbs to LEDs (light-emitting diodes). These lights are much more sustainable because they last 35 to 50 times longer than incandescent bulbs. They also emit much less heat, making your living space cooler when the weather is hot.

Rose Morrison is the managing editor of Renovated, and has been writing in the home living industry for over five years. Her work has been featured on The National Association of Realtors, the American Society of Home Inspectors and other reputable publications.

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