At a time where individuals are looking at potential employer’s reputation and corporate social responsibility, it’s no surprise that sustainability is a growing topic of interest for incoming college students. And, colleges and universities are paying close attention.

Prior to 2008, sustainability was not a top-of-mind topic for most universities when it came to recruiting students. But in 2008, The Princeton Review released the results from its annual Hopes & Worries study, where they asked students if they would like to know about a school’s sustainability efforts and if it would impact their decision to attend. 

The results showed that 63% of students would value having sustainability information and it might impact their decision to attend, while 23% said the information would strongly contribute to their decision to attend. And in 2015, 60% of college hopefuls said that having information about a school’s commitment to the environment would impact their decision to apply to or attend. 

The available evidence is consistent in suggesting that a significant, and likely growing, proportion of prospective students are making decisions about where to apply and attend based on campus sustainability performance.
— Julian Dautremont-Smith, AASHE

Since 2008, studies continue to show that sustainability can play a role in a student’s decision to attend a certain college or university. While factors such as financial aid, academic reputation, and program offerings still dominate the decision-making process, a school’s sustainability efforts can no longer be ignored.

A simple Google search of sustainable universities will show you a number of lists that exist today to rank colleges and universities based on their sustainability efforts:

  • In 2015, Sierra Club’s 9th annual Cool Schools ranked 153 schools based on their sustainability efforts
  • The Princeton Review’s Green Rating Honor Roll ranked 24 schools in 2016 that top the charts for sustainability
  • ranked 39 of the greenest universities using data from AASHE

Another search of “[insert college/university name] sustainability” will likely bring you to an entire website dedicated to said school’s sustainability efforts. There, you’ll find that Environmental Studies programs are gaining strength, action plans for carbon neutral and zero-waste schools are well underway, and student-run organizations and efforts are running full speed ahead.

We took at look at three schools across the country to see how they approach sustainability. What we found was that their efforts run much wider and deeper than we could have imagined. 

Take a look at some of the highlights from each school: 

1. University of Maryland

University of MarylandUniversity of Maryland
  • Their Climate Action Plan includes the goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050

  • Their campus includes several LEED-Certified buildings, like the LEED Silver Certified Denton Dining Hall. The dining hall includes a rooftop garden and they donate unsold food to D.C. soup kitchens

  • They created a robust composting program, which grew from an average of 15 tons of food waste to compost per month in 2007 to 20 tons in 2009

  • The entire campus is a designated Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to establishing and maintaining healthy community forests

  • All first year students attend a sustainability lesson led by student sustainability advisors to learn about sustainability efforts across campus

  • On April 4-5, the University of Maryland is hosting the Smart and Sustainable Campus Conference


2. University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota reuse tote bagsUniversity of Minnesota reuse tote bags
  • The university is the largest public research university to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary and legally binding program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

  • They created a ReUse Program to collect old furniture and materials for repurchase by departments and individuals. The ReUse Warehouse even includes some of Relan’s products, which are made from upcycled vinyl and mesh from the university

  • They created the Institute on the Environment, which is home to a number of research and education initiatives to help preserve the environment. 

  • The Institute on the Environment created a program called Acara, where student entrepreneurs can explore venture solutions to solve social and environmental challenges

  • Every year since 1997, students gather for Beautiful U Day, which includes a campus-wide cleanout and a ReUse sale where students can purchase used bikes and other goods collected by the ReUse Program


3. University of California, Irvine

UC Irvine campusUC Irvine campus
  • UC Irvine ranked #1 on the Cool Schools list for the last couple of years and is leading the charge with several sustainability initiatives

  • 13 of their campus buildings are LEED Platinum Certified and another 8 are LEED Gold Certified

  • Their Carbon Neutrality Initiative includes a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025

  • Many locations on campus are zero waste food locations, meaning 95% or more of all solid waste is diverted from landfills. One of UC Irvine’s sustainability goals is to become a zero waste campus and they are already well on their way with an 83% diversion rate across campus

  • UC Irvine created the Summer Sustainability Series which includes one-day and multi-day immersion programs for students to learn about sustainability and leadership. Their goal is to “create the next generation of sustainability leaders.”


What is your school doing to become more sustainable? Let us know in the comments - we'd love to highlight your efforts! 

Images: 1) Flickr/Matthew Beckler 2) Flickr/Hillel Steinberg  4) Flickr/Jack Miller