The Green Nitty Gritty Whittling Down the College List

With all the posh accoutrements on campuses today, students are as likely to choose a school for its gourmet food and weight rooms as for its academic programs. The green-minded student has just as many factors to consider when facing the mountain of applications. Here are a few schools’ green achievements to weigh when making your decision. Many colleges have hybrid cars in their fleets, recycling bins around campus and compact fluorescent lights. But others go much further, challenging the wasteful status quo:

1. Burn, Baby, Burn.

This fall, Middlebury College in Vermont is set to start operating its $11 million biomass plant, which should cut the college’s greenhouse gas emissions by almost 12,500 metric tons annually, with half the heating and 20 percent of its electricity provided by wood chips instead of fuel oil. The college hopes to kick start a local market for sustainable wood chips in the process—the plant will require 20,000 tons of wood chips a year to operate.

CONTACT: Middlebury College

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2. Grow a Greener China.

In 2006, the Vermont Law School embarked on an impressive mission: strengthening environmental law and policy in China through a partnership with Sun Yat-sen University. The timing is critical: China has overtaken the U.S. in terms of carbon emissions and two-thirds of the country’s energy comes from dirty coal.

CONTACT: Vermont Law School

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Sun Yat-sen University in China

3. Practice Farming.

At the five-acre Outback Farm on the Western Washington University campus, students can grow anything (so long as it’s organic!) in one of 40 available plots. Besides the community garden, the site boasts forest, herb and market gardens, the bounties of which are sold on campus and donated to a local food bank.

CONTACT: The Outback Outdoor Experiental Learning Program

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Outback Farm at Western Washington University

4. Take a Bike!

Many colleges have jumped on the community bike bandwagon, including Princeton University, Middlebury College, University of Maine, Utah State University, University of California Santa Barbara and Davidson College. For a nominal fee ($3 a year unlimited access at Princeton) or for free through programs like GreenBike at UMaine, students can commute around campus on specially designated red, green, yellow or blue bikes, making car-free travel an easy option. UVM gets extra points for its end-of-semester Naked Bike Ride.

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Free bikes at the University of Maine

5. Go Veggie.

Warren Wilson College in North Carolina features the student-conceived “Cow Pie” vegetarian cafe. Maharishi University of Management in Iowa goes even further—all of its meals are organic and vegetarian, from pizza to stir fry. The meditative school bakes its own breads using organic flour, andpurchases milk, yogurt and ice cream from a local organic dairy farm. And Indiana University-Bloomington was voted “Most Vegetarian Friendly College” by Peta2 (the college branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Offerings include vegan garden burgers and hot cakes.

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Warren Wilson College’s vegetarian Cow Pie Cafe.

6. Live in an Ecovillage.

Berea College in Kentucky offers a brave new world to students and their families through the Ecovillage, a sustainable residential and learning complex with 50 apartments, an Ecological Machine to process wastewater into usable water, wetlands, gardens and aggressive energy-saving goals.

CONTACT: Berea College

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The Ecovillage at Berea College

7. Shack up in a Green Dorm.

In northern Wisconsin, Northland College’s “green” dorm, also known as the McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center, actually served as a prototype for Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design (LEED) standards. It features increased insulation, high-efficiency boilers, heat recovery, solar panels, recycled plastic furniture and locally grown wood.

CONTACT: Northland College

8. Plant A Roof.

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A Wesleyan University dance class, “Fleet to the Fire,” finds creative solutions to consumer waste.

Virginia Wesleyan College has devoted thousands of square feet of roof space to growing sedum and other hardy plants that help to mitigate water runoff and counteract pollutants. In Minnesota, Carleton College built the state’s first green roof using only native plant species. And green roofs at the sunny University of Florida look like a leafy, flowering oasis among the brick and concrete.

9. Go Commando!

Dorm composting has been a feature at Bard College since 2000. Each week, a collection team of (paid!) “Composting Commandos’ takes the special buckets from the dorm kitchens and brings the food waste to compost bins at the community gardens, reducing waste and providing nutrient-rich sustainable soil.

CONTACT: Bard’s Dorm Composting Home

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A “Composting Commando” at Bard College

10. When All Else Fails, Dance!

The Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Connecticut was awarded a $200,000 grant for its multi-disciplinary offering “Feet to the Fire: The Art and Science of Climate Change.” The class uses a nearby landfill as a laboratory, filled with the “climactic consequences of consumerism.” Both “scientific deduction” and “choreographic composition” will be put to work in getting to the bottom of our decidedly messy world.

CONTACT: Wesleyan University