The word "sustainability" has become synonymous with idealism, and thus over time, turned into something that seems far-off and unobtainable. But in a world where some of the most pressing environmental issues are being ignored, or worse, dismissed as fake, sustainability needs be at the top of our list of priorities. The good news? Sustainability can come from something as simple as a green roof in the middle of a crowded city or a pledge to stick to energy-efficient lightbulbs, and it doesn't always have to cost a fortune. Here are eight colleges and universities that are doing their part, in various ways, to work towards a sustainable future.
1. Cornell University
Location: Ithaca, NY
In addition to already having 22 green buildings, Cornell University requires a minimum of "silver" on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating scale for any new buildings to be constructed on its vast campus. This means that these buildings have to meet a certain level of energy efficiency, responsible material sourcing and effective land-use before they can reach the construction stage. To top it off, Cornell issues free bus passes to all students to minimize the carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption from cars.
2. University of California, Davis
Location: Davis, CA
Faced almost year-round with the glaring California sun, UC Davis has opted for a simple solution to maximize sustainability while battling the heat. Every dormitory building has been fitted with reflective white roofs, which not only cools down the buildings, but also reduces the students' need for air conditioning. In addition to that, UC Davis is home to the University of California's largest solar power plant, which covers 14% of the campus' electricity needs. This plant is part of a larger plan (with the rest of the UC's) to make the campus completely carbon-neutral by the year 2025.
3. Green Mountain College
Location: Poultney, VT
Green Mountain College strongly believes that its students are the drivers of sustainable change, and with good reason. Not only was the campus among the nation's first to achieve complete carbon neutrality, but it also acquires 85% of its heat energy from biomass – a project initiated by the student community. Students also helped install a multitude of solar charging stations, and a 150kW solar farm on campus. And by the year 2020, Green Mountain College aims to operate solely on renewable energy.
4. The Cooper Union
Location: New York, NY
The first of this concrete jungle's institutional buildings to earn Platinum LEED status, Cooper Union's academic building is a great example of how sustainability can come from architecture. The steel mesh panels on the outside of the building reflect sunlight in the summer and insulate heat in the winter, thus reducing the energy used for cooling and heating. A roof covered in plants (known as a "green roof") means that the building is cooled down, air quality around it is improved and rainwater is able to be harvested for further use.
5. University of Florida
Location: Gainesville, FL
In true Floridian style, sustainability at the home of the Alligators can be attributed, at least partially, to Greek life. In an initiative started by the Alpha Psi chapter of Delta Delta Delta, Greek houses at UF have pledged to implement one sustainable change per year, such as switching to energy-saving lightbulbs or taking part in a recycling program. Other campaigns include BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag), tote bag sales and t-shirt sales.
6. Stanford University
Location: Stanford, CA
With nearly 50% of food served in its dining halls sourced from regional farmers and markets, Stanford minimizes fuel that would otherwise be used to import produce, all while helping the local community at the same time. 65% of solid food waste is then either recycled or composted, and the cycle continues with students and faculty growing organic produce on the school's 1.5 acre "farm on the Farm".
7. Colorado State University
Location: Fort Collins, CO
Environmental awareness is completely embedded into this high-altitude college campus, and not just because nearly 40% of CSU's courses relate to sustainability. With a platinum bicycle designation program, 13 arrays of solar panels, on-campus electric car charging stations and a continual downward trend of water consumption despite increasing student populations, CSU is a perfect example of what college campuses should strive for.
8. College of the Atlantic
Location: Bar Harbor, ME
Ranked by Princeton Review as the country's number one greenest college, and the very first to become carbon-neutral, College of the Atlantic does an incredible job of staying true to its vision of environmental stewardship. In fact, the oceanside college only offers one course – and that's on human ecology, or the study of the relationships between humans and their environment. Besides that, COA has an extensive list of campus sustainability policies, which cover everything from fair-trade coffee, to meat purchasing, to discarded waste management.
If there's one thing you should take away from this list, it's that there is no fixed way to achieve sustainability. While there are some common themes, the colleges mentioned above are all taking their own approach to it, and you can too. Here are some simple ways you can work towards sustainability in your personal life, and if your college doesn't have any green initiatives, consider starting one!
Lead Image Credit: Eric Huang via Unsplash