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
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
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,