3 Sustainable Colleges Leading the Way in Sustainable Education
July 22, 2015.
How are we going to tackle climate change? To get started, we need a whole new generation of well-educated people who understand the ins and outs of sustainable living.
And here’s some good news.
Over the past few decades, more and more American colleges and universities are starting to walk the talk, integrating environmental stewardship into their dining halls, dorm buildings, student clubs, and most importantly - classrooms. This trend is significant because institutions of higher education are at the forefront of innovation and social change.
Sustainable colleges who both teach and implement sustainability are powerful influencers. They play a role in the shaping and development their student’s social values and awareness. Giving undergrads – the emerging leaders of our world – education and experience in the environmental field is vital to the sustainable future we know we need to build.
Although there are many to choose from, below are a few leaders in collegiate sustainability that we think are demonstrate models that we all can learn from.
1. College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine)
Sustainability is ingrained within the very foundation of the College of the Atlantic (COA). Indeed, “in 1969, COA’s founder’s intentions were clear: COA would be the first college in the U.S to have, as its primary focus, the relationship between humans and the environment”. The realization of this vision is evident throughout COA today, especially within their academic program, as human ecology is the sole major offered at this small institution of only 350 students.
College of the Atlantic declared carbon neutrality in 2006, becoming the first college or university to do so, and officially divested their fossil-fuel related funds (approximately $1 million) in 2013. This divestment resulted from student campaign efforts, and the school’s advances in sustainability continue to be propelled by passionate undergrads. Recent student projects have included the installation of wind turbines and the construction of a small electric vehicle.
2. Warren Wilson College (Swannanoa, North Carolina)
The sustainability of Warren Wilson is centered around their 275+ acre working farm and 640+ acres of managed forest. The food and lumber harvested from this land – work done mostly by the 900 students, who have mandatory 15-hour work weeks – allows the college to be largely self-sufficient. The farm also acts as an educational lab for undergrads as well as a profitable business that sells produce to locals. And of course, the equipment used on the farm is eco-friendly as well – vehicles are powered by biodiesel or solar power, and chainsaws are fueled with soy-oil!
Warren Wilson also has its own green education program called The Green Walkaboutan extensive campus tour that informs participants about the sustainability of Warren Wilson’s land use, infrastructure, and waste management practices. They share their sustainability story “with the hope that it will assist others in their decision-making process about future development and management of buildings, land, and community”.
3. Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vermont)
In examining the school’s recent sustainability initiatives, Green Mountain College has certainly been living up to its name. Green Mountain declared carbon neutrality in 2011, voted in 2014 to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on campus, and intends to meet 100% of energy needs with 100% renewable energy by 2020. A $5.8 million biomass plant heats 85% of the campus’s buildings, and much of their electricity consumption is fueled by “Cow Power”, or methane gas derived from local cow manure.
Environmental consciousness is also a huge component of Green Mountain’s academic curriculum. All 800 students are required to complete a 37-credit Environmental Liberal Arts Program, which builds communication skills, fosters critical thinking, and encourages personal responsibility while examining man’s relationship to the natural world. Plus, three out of four of the masters programs offered by the school are directly focused on matters of sustainability.
At the ClimateStore, we’re inspired by institutions that embody sustainable living.
And in addition to the featured schools above, there are hundreds more who model sustainability and have exceptional environmental and sustainability programs. One resource we like is The College Sustainability Report Card, a website where the sustainability of schools’ policies and actions are profiled in-depth.
In sum, we admire all these schools for the example that they set and for the hope and awareness that they engender in the next generation of climate leaders.