Top 25 Best Sustainable Colleges

Sustainability has been an important topic for people, businesses, and colleges in recent years, especially in the face of climate change. If sustainability is important to you, you plan on entering the energy industry, or you just want to make sure you’re leaving less of a mark on the earth, you might want to consider attending a sustainable college. We’ve outlined 25 colleges that do “sustainable” really, really well. Plus we’ve detailed what makes a school “green” and how we made our list.

Source: Flickr user cronncc.

What Makes a College Sustainable?

While you might automatically think of recycling, promoting less printing, and solar power when it comes to sustainability, going green actually encompasses more than those three areas!

There are plenty of ways colleges and universities can go green including: 

  • Installing environmentally friendly energy solutions such as solar and wind
  • Asking professors and students to print less often where possible and use digital resources and books instead of printed books
  • Promoting recycling events and ongoing programs in the dining halls and throughout campus
  • Buying local foods
  • Offering a bike or scooter rental program for use on campus
  • Starting a campus garden and/or composting program
  • Promote e-waste recycling events
  • Stopping the use of disposable items such as one-use water bottles, utensils, and plates
  • Installing a water purification system and water refill stations
  • Using passive lighting and reclaimed wood in dorms
  • Offering sustainability majors and courses
  • Using campus shuttles to cut down on the number of cars on campus

How Did We Make Our List?

We used two sources to make our top sustainable colleges list:

Source 1: The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

STARS, or The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System, is from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  The framework is for colleges and universities to better measure their sustainability performance. Self-reporting, all data that the colleges submit can be viewed on the website.

Every college that submits its sustainability data is given scores based on various criteria:

  • Curriculum 
  • Research
  • Campus Engagement
  • Public Engagement
  • Operations including buildings, energy, food and dining, transportation, and more
  • Diversity and affordability
  • Wellbeing and work
  • Innovation and leadership
  • And others

These scores are tallied up and the colleges and universities can then receive different ratings based on their performance: Reporter, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. 

For example, Boston University recently received a Gold rating from STARS. They received a total score of 66.10. In Curriculum, they scored 28.01 out of a possible 40 points. In Diversity and Affordability, they received 8.79 points out of a max of 10. 

These reports can be used by students, those in the energy industry, and other colleges and universities to learn more about sustainability efforts or to better understand how their school’s sustainability program compares to others.

The list we used below is based heavily on the scores received through STARS. It is important to note though that some schools may have strong sustainability programs and did not yet submit their data to the program.

Source 2: Green Power Partnership Top 30 College & University List

As an additional source of information, we also used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership Top 30 College & University list which details the college’s annual green power usage, the green power percentage of total electricity use, and the resources available on campus that help to power the green energy.

Without further ado, here are the top sustainable colleges:

Top 5 Sustainable Colleges in the United States

1. Arizona State University

Arizona State University Campus Immersion logoArizona State University, based in Tempe, AZ, has a STARS rating of Platinum, with a total score of 91.10. The university in particular scored extremely high in academics – in curriculum it received a 39.55 out of 40 and a perfect score in research (18). ASU also ranked extremely high in engagement, operations, planning, and administration. And 78% of ASU’s energy usage is powered by various green energy sources.

The university is committed to a number of sustainability goals including:

  • Promoting zero waste and using a circular resource system.
  • Making a net positive impact on the climate.
  • Focusing on cross-departmental efforts to design and implement sustainable solutions.
  • Optimizing water use.
  • Gain a better understanding of the relationships with food, sources, and impact of food on the planet.
  • And more.

2. University of California – Irvine

University of California-Irvine logoUniversity of California – Irvine also received a Platinum STARS rating and received a total score of 88.80. The university received a perfect score in Academics – Research and Coordination and Planning. UC Irvine also ranked extremely high on its water operations, diversity and affordability efforts, and campus engagement. When accounting for the whole University of California system, 43% of energy usage is powered by green sources. 

UC Irvine’s original sustainability policy was written in 2004 and today contains details about its various programs including those for food services, water systems, procurement, zero waste, climate action, building design, and more. 

3. Colorado State University

Colorado State University-Fort Collins logoWith a Platinum rating on STARS, Colorado State University received a score of 88.13. This includes perfect scores on curriculum and research under academics as well as water operations. In addition, CSU received near-perfect scores for their campus and public engagement efforts and coordination and planning.

The university has received a number of recognitions for its sustainability efforts over the years including being named a Platinum Bike-Friendly University and a Certified Bee Campus in 2018. It was also the first institution in the world to receive a Platinum rating from STARS. CSU has various plans underway including those for composting, climate action, solar power, recycling, green buildings, and more. 

4. Cornell University

Cornell University logoAnother Platinum STARS rated institution, Cornell University received a total score of 86.88. With perfect scores in research under academics and coordination and planning, the school also received near-perfect marks in diversity and affordability, campus and public engagement, and curriculum.

Run by the Sustainable Cornell Council (SCC), Cornell University is dedicated to a number of sustainability goals including:

  • Interdisciplinary research with an initial focus on the equitable distribution of food.
  • Education of future sustainability professionals.
  • Long-term research dedicated to changing sustainability products, practices, and/or policies.
  • Bridge intellectual gaps in sustainability.
  • Strategies for water, buildings, energy, well-being, transportation, and more.

5. State University of New York of Environmental Science and Forestry

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry logoSUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry also received a Platinum STARS rating and an overall score of 86.83. The school received perfect scores in curriculum, research, water operations, and investment and finance. ESF also did extremely well in coordination and planning, public engagement, and purchasing operations. 

Sustainability is central to ESF’s operations and they are dedicated to:

  • Achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions
  • Clean energy projects
  • Clean energy curriculum
  • Research and development
  • Community engagement
  • Zero Waste
  • Environmental and social justice goals
  • And more 

20 More Sustainable Colleges

The colleges and universities listed below also scored extremely high on sustainability factors, receiving Platinum and Gold Ratings from STARS. Many are listed in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership Top 30 College & University as well. If you are looking to go green and attend sustainable college, these are worth considering:

  1. University of New Hampshire
  2. Stanford University
  3. University of California – Berkeley
  4. University of California – Merced
  5. University of Massachusetts Lowell
  6. Loyola University Chicago
  7. Dickinson College
  8. George Washington University
  9. University of California – Davis
  10. Seattle University
  11. California State University – Chico
  12. Santa Clara University
  13. Keene State College
  14. University of California – Santa Barbara
  15. Colgate University
  16. University of California – Santa Cruz
  17. University of Maryland – College Park
  18. Furman University
  19. University of Vermont
  20. California State Polytechnic University – Humboldt 

Sustainability is so much more than a buzzword to the colleges listed above. They practice it every day in their operations. These colleges and universities are dedicated to focusing more on making the most of renewable energy sources, introducing sustainability curriculum, and starting various programs to get students and the community at large involved. 

Are you interested in attending a school that has a strong sustainability program? College Raptor’s College Match school can help you find the school that not only matches you academically but matches your interests as well! See if you’re a good fit for the 25 schools listed above by getting started with College Match here.

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