College has consumed my brain this past week as my family and I drove up and down the East Coast in search of my dream liberal arts school. Our last stop was Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. On the tour, an outspoken girl grilled our tour guide about how the college is going green.
Our guide told us the college is getting greener. Though average Wesleyan students enter with 4.0s on their report cards, Wesleyan’s green report card sports a B+ average. Wesleyan’s weak point? A “C” in transportation. Wesleyan uses four electric shuttles for transportation to the airport and around campus. Wesleyan is getting greener, though: Since March 2008 students have had access to an online carpooling site.
In my opinion, Williams College wins the top green college prize for creatively encouraging students to go green. Our tour guide explained to us that the chalk-inscribed phrase on the brick dorm walls that read “Do it in the Dark” was not a dirty college joke, (as a father on an earlier tour had angrily assumed) but rather, a catchy way to tell students to save energy. For a month, students tried to study, eat and socialize without flipping on a light switch. Williams, also struggling in the area of transportation, received a B+ average as well.
These middle-of-nowhere selective colleges have a difficult time achieving an above average green transportation ranking because the airports are farther away. So who is getting the top ranks, anyway?
Princeton Review provides a one-stop shop for college searchers by including the green rankings of every school in its overall profiles. Not surprisingly, Harvard and Yale made the cut for top green colleges. A large endowment may seem like a fast ticket to success, but these schools are not the only ones receiving high marks. The Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll acknowledges more than just the Ivies. Bates and Emory are among the eleven schools who received the highest green college rating (99 out of 100). Bates uses 28 percent of its food budget to buy local, natural and organic foods. Emory requires all of its new buildings to be LEED-certified and uses vegetable oil converted to biodiesel to fuel the campus buses. College of the Atlantic, harboring solely human ecology majors, received that ranking as well.
The College Sustainability Report Card for 2009 is an excellent resource for researching green colleges. It awarded just five percent of the 300 colleges it surveyed an A- grade (talk about selective!). The green colleges report card ranks colleges based on specific categories such as green building, student involvement, food and recycling, transportation and investment priorities.
Dartmouth has held an A- for three years, while University of Vermont, University of Washington and Middlebury have received this ranking for two years in a row. Dartmouth gives priority parking and $180 to $360 annually to each carpooler. Dartmouth also sends 12 students per year on a Big Green Bus Tour to museums and parks across the country inform the public about climate change and alternative fuels. The vegetable oil-run bus with recycled interior sets a green example and morphs into a science fair at every stop. Middlebury holds energy saving competitions in its dorms and has a Green Fund. The goals of the green fund include maintaining the environmental studies major, buying more local and organic foods and becoming carbon neutral by 2016.
The demand for a green college has prompted many schools to green their campuses. I say, let green colleges fight over who has the most LEED-certified buildings, even if their motive is bragging rights.
Oberlin College, one of 15 schools to achieve the College Sustainability Report’s top ranking, has stunning green architecture and contains the most solar panels in the state of Ohio. Photo Courtesy TheDailyGreen.