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Dr. Kat’s List: Top Colleges for Saving the Environment

Students use their summer to volunteer planting trees

Sustainability has become a hot topic in the past few years, and with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day coming up this month, everyone is talking about reducing their carbon footprint. We’ve compiled a list of schools that strive to be environmentally friendly, facilitate “green” volunteer opportunities, and provide an academic setting focused on sustainability. If you’re passionate about saving the planet, or just interested in learning more about using less, these schools might give you the knowledge you need to go green.

Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Arizona State University was the first public university in the nation to create a School for Sustainability. Students at Arizona State University can take courses such as International Development, The Economics of Sustainability, and Sustainable Ecosystems. The university offers students the opportunity to earn an undergraduate degree in Sustainability, which emphasizes the necessary problem-solving skills needed for the demanding discipline that integrates elements of architecture, engineering, and urban planning among others. Arizona State University is in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona’s capital city. Students can head into the energetic city or travel to one of the many national parks and forests that are within a few hours drive (the Grand Canyon, for example, is about four hours away). For those students more interested in team sports than recreational outdoor activities, ASU is nationally recognized for many of its Division I teams and the Sun Devils excel in their conference, the Pacific-10. Students have a long-standing tradition of showing their school spirit by painting the giant “A” that was installed on Tempe Butte (a local geological formation) in 1938 before every game. Funnymen Jimmy Kimmel and David Spade attended ASU, as did designer Kate Spade and baseball Hall-of-Famer Reggie Jackson.

University of Colorado, Boulder, CO

The University of Colorado’s main campus is located in Boulder, Colorado, amid the natural splendor of the Rocky Mountains. Students here have access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the continental US, and the university offers students many ways to get outdoors and enjoy the scenery. CU—Boulder’s Hiking Club is the longest-running student club on campus and Boulder Freeride, a ski and snowboard club, is the largest (it also happens to be the largest collegiate snow and ski club in the world). With so many options for students to take advantage of the natural resources of Boulder, it’s no wonder that they may also want to protect those resources. The CU—Boulder Environmental Center is the nation’s oldest as well as most active center of its type. The Center organizes meetings that focus on wildlife projects, rideshares, efficiency, and earth education, among many other topics. Students with a passion for saving the environment through policy changes can sign up for CU—Boulder’s student government, which has one of the biggest budgets for a student government in the nation. Though CU—Boulder is a large public university with over 23,000 undergraduates, students can take part in Residential Academic Programs. The programs aim to create the atmosphere of a small college within a major university where participants often live in the same resident hall and take classes together. They offer students small class sizes, undergraduate research opportunities, and recreational activities. CU—Boulder is Colorado’s flagship university, and students can get a dose of the Wild West every time they head to a football game and catch a glimpse of CU’s mascot, Ralphie, a live buffalo. CU—Boulder is also a player on the world stage; for 62 years the university has hosted the Conference on World Affairs, which brings together experts on everything from Music Theory to Technology to International Affairs, and has featured speakers such as Steve Allen, Patch Adams, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

University of Washington at Seattle, Seattle, WA

This public university, known to locals as U-Dub, ranked high on the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” list for its commitment to environmentalism. The school recently opened a College of the Environment (similar to a College of Arts and Sciences or a College of Engineering), which grants students the opportunity to study in areas such as Atmospheric Sciences, Earth & Space Sciences, and Marine Affairs. Students of this college may also earn a bachelor’s degree in “Program on the Environment,” an interdisciplinary program that the university says, “combine[s] natural science, the human factor, and community-based problem solving.” At the University of Washington, green doesn’t just mean environmentalism— on campus, students can catch a glimpse of Mt. Rainer from Drumheller Fountain or stroll through the cherry trees on the quad. The surrounding city of Seattle is home to the state’s official arboretum and a lush array of plants and trees that benefit from the region’s rainy seasons. Seattle is also a cultural touchstone for the West Coast. From its famous music scene to its pool of literary talent, there is no shortage of events and activities for U-Dub students. Back on campus, students, known as Huskies, can get involved in highly competitive Division I varsity sports as well as recreational sports. The Intramurals Activities fitness center (IMA), for example, keeps students active with its 42’ rock walls and myriad of courts and fitness classes. UW alumni include novelist Tom Robbins, the Chief Creative Officer at Disney and Co-Founder of Pixar, Loren Carpenter, and Jeopardy! champion, Ken Jennings.

Bates College, Lewiston, ME

This private college has been a leader in revolutionary education since 1855 when it was founded by abolitionists and became the first institute of higher learning in New England to admit both men and women. Bates adopted the status of “SAT optional” in 1984 and was one of the first schools to enact the policy (learn more at www.fairtest.org). As a continuation of that legacy Bates strives to become a leader in sustainability and is highly ranked on the “Green Rating” Honor Roll by The Best 368 Colleges. The college has several initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation on campus, including the Bate Bike Co-op, a popular way for students to quickly get from class to class. Students pay a small fee to rent a bike lock key for the semester, which gives them access to communal bikes conveniently parked around campus. With nearly 93% of students choosing to live on campus, these campus-wide sustainability initiatives greatly impact student life at Bates. Students here can also take advantage of the unique Bates academic calendar that offers a third 5-week semester, which is perfectly suited to learning opportunities such as an internship or study abroad.

Emory University, Atlanta, GA

This private university is situated within the bustling city limits of urban Atlanta, where students can take advantage of both the familiarity of a small campus and the opportunities of a major metropolitan city. Emory freshmen are able to join Living-Learning communities that help them to adjust to the university as well as pursue specialized interests. For instance, students can join the Living Green program and live in residence halls with other environmentally-minded students. The university has taken great strides to become more environmentally friendly and has organized sustainability-related information into one comprehensive website, http://sustainability.emory.edu, which lists everything from service activities to campus initiatives, to LEED Green Building Ratings, to sustainability-related courses. Emory integrates sustainability into its academic offerings as well and professors have woven the issue into a surprising array of topics, such as History and Middle Eastern Studies. Students can take courses in standard sustainability fare including Environmental Journalism, and Globalization and Culture, but they’re also able to take sustainability-related courses in topics such as Theology as Social Protest, Entrepreneurship, and The West in World Context. Emory is also known for its superstar faculty—students have taken classes with the Dalai Lama, novelist Salman Rushdie, and activist Desmond Tutu. To take a break from studying, students can get out and about and venture into the city or explore the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, which features hiking trails, trout fishing, waterfalls, and horseback riding.

With more and more schools going green, new opportunities are emerging every day for students to take environmental initiative no matter what school they attend. For example, at Stanford University, students run a produce stand featuring local and organically grown fruits and vegetables. At Oberlin, students operate the “Living Machine,” a wastewater treatment system that uses living plants to recycle campus wastewater into usable grey water (water intended for use in campus operations, but not for human consumption). To find out more about sustainability at the schools on your college list check out their websites or go to http://www.greenreportcard.org. Remember, even if your school doesn’t make the grade, you can always lead the change for a more sustainable campus.

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