Go Big Green
- By Amy Milshtein
- December 1st, 2007
Is your school carbon neutral? How many campus buildings are LEED certified? Where does your energy come from? Does your foodservice use locally grown and farmed products as much as possible? These are questions that today’s students are asking their potential colleges. Do you have the answers that will draw and retain students into the future?
Today’s students want a lot from their schools. “I was looking at two other colleges along with The Evergreen State College,” said Brendan O’Brien, currently a senior at the Olympia, WA, institution. “Ultimately it was the mix of Evergreen’s interdisciplinary style of teaching and their commitment to the environment that won me over.”
O’Brien admits that he didn’t know what LEED certification was when he started his college search. Not surprisingly, he was in good company. “Up until recently the process was very one-sided. We would bring sustainable architecture ideas to our client, and they would pick and choose what they wanted to do,” observed B.K. Boley, principal, ADD Inc., who just completed work on Wasylean Hall for Worcester State College in Massachusetts. “Schools want to do the right thing but didn’t necessarily want a plaque for it.”
Since then, however, students and universities have had epiphanies. “When I first entered college, ecological issues were in my top five concerns,” revealed O’Brien. “Today it’s my number one issue. I only wish I had the time to be more active.” Schools seem to have followed suit. “Universities are much more aware and organized in their environmental concerns today,” related Boley. “It’s a real market push.” A telling example is Wasylean Hall. While the college opted out of LEED certification during the building process, they have now decided to pursue an existing building certification. “They’re going for the plaque,” said Boley.
Boley also reports that when potential students tour Wayslean Hall, they immediately become more focused when the building’s environmental benefits are discussed. It’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping campuses across the nation. "What university leaders are telling us is that they now see this as an opportunity for recruitment," said Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council, in a 2006 New York Times article by Timothy Egan. "It signals to the potential student that this is an organization that gets it."
Where Green is a Natural Fit
Some schools are a natural fit when it comes to green issues. Along with The Evergreen State College, Vermont’s Middlebury College remains well known for their environmental awareness. Named by Grist.org as the number two most environmentally aware school in the world, Middlebury actively courts students with green on their mind. “Incoming freshmen know about LEED and ask about it,” said Nan Jenks-Jay, dean of Environmental Affairs. “They also ask other tough questions, like where we get our energy from and if we use biodiesel and if our ski area is carbon neutral.”
Admittedly, Middlebury is a place where a student can be fully immersed in green. Thirty percent of the food served here is locally grown, and all college papers are 100-percent post-consumer recycled. Their Sunday Night student group claims nearly 100 members, and it was this group that pushed the school into carbon neutrality. However, not all students think green right off the bat. “I estimate that 20 to 25 percent of our student pool come in with green on the top of their list,” said Bob Clagett, Middlebury’s dean of admissions. “The rest are looking for a small liberal arts education first.”
Doug Scrim, director of admission for The Evergreen State College (number four on Grist.org’s list), agrees. “We attract a real mix of students who put environmental issues at the forefront and others who want a top liberal arts education,” he said. Still, other schools are catching the environmental wave and taking it for a ride. “There are a lot of schools out there trying to out-green each other,” reported Clagett. “You see it on their Websites and in their catalogs.”
Sorting Out the Players
There is a place to sort out true environmental commitment from greenwashing. Established in 2005, The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) works to promote sustainability in all sectors of higher education, from governance and operations to curriculum and outreach. The list of school members — four-year, two-year, and others — proves extensive. It also shows that all schools, even those without an obvious ecological bent, are getting under the green umbrella.
One such school is the University of Florida in Gainesville. Their Office of Sustainability has been in place under the President’s office since February 2006. “It did exist in another form within the College of Design, Construction and Planning,” said Dedee DeLongpre-Johnston, director, Office of Sustainability. “But by having it under President’s office, it works in concert with the highest levels of administration, and that gives the department real teeth.”
While DeLongpre-Johnston can’t offer statistics on exactly how many students are interested in sustainable issues, that will change in the coming months after their first annual sustainability survey comes out. “I suspect we will see a trend in environmental literacy among the incoming freshmen as well our current students,” she predicted.
Why does she feel so confident?
“Well, there are 15 student groups that have sustainability in their agendas, and for the last two years all student government nominees ran on a sustainability platform,” she reported. “I get at least 20 calls a month from college reporters working on an environmental piece, and students even voted to increase their transportation fees to pay for biodiesel buses.”
While the grassroots at the University of Florida are definitely green, DeLongpre-Johnston also sees other schools joining in. “There is a position like mine advertised for every week on the AASHE Website,” she said. “And that’s a great thing. Ignoring sustainability is like ignoring strategic planning.”