Students looking to narrow their college choices will soon have something new to consider alongside academics and campus life: A "Green Rating" makes its debut this summer in several of The Princeton Review's popular college guides. Six-hundred college profiles will include a score reflecting factors such as building and transportation policies, food sources, recycling, and availability of environmental courses.
In response to students' growing appetite for all things environmentally friendly, several groups have begun tracking schools' commitment to going green. But such ratings might be productive only to the degree that they spur thoughtful initiatives, pushing schools to collaborate as much as compete, experts say. If it veers toward "keeping up with the Joneses," some observers caution, it might only increase college costs at a time when affordability is a major concern.
"We're definitely seeing schools that look at sustainability as a strategic priority and a way of distinguishing themselves, and there are many schools that are striving to be ... the 'greenest' campus," says Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in Lexington, Ky., which has been piloting a rating system in which schools can participate.
The College Sustainability Report Card, put out by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) in Cambridge, Mass., gives letter grades to at least 200 public and private schools with the largest endowments. In addition to green campus factors, it grades how well a school uses its investment leverage to advocate for the environment. "When people are comparing schools that all say they are leaders on sustainability ... [they can now] peek behind those statements," says executive director Mark Orlowski.
When Nick Devonshire was a high school senior, he checked the schools on his list against that report card, and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., was his first choice. "In the past year, they had reduced energy consumption by 5 percent while most schools were increasing, and I thought, wow, they're on top of their game," he says, after his first year at the college. He also looked at the grades for campus activism and administrative support for environmental efforts.
Many of his peers "want to be at a school where they don't have to search for recycling ... and where they know they are part of the solution," says Mr. Devonshire, who'll be working this summer for the institute.
Six out of 10 college applicants and parents say the environmental factor would affect their decision to apply to or attend a school, according to a Princeton Review survey this year.
The idea of ranking something as broad as environmentalism gives pause even to some considered leaders on this front. "It's easy to fall into that trap of 'mine is greener than yours,' but it is fundamentally inconsistent with the reasons why colleges should be becoming more sustainable.... We're all part of one system," says David Hales, president of College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, Maine. …