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Be True to Your School
Readers respond to "Go Big Green"
January/February 2008

Our November/December 2007 cover story on environmentally friendly campuses drew nationwide attention and plenty of letters from readers, who showed their school spirit by writing to tout the eco-accomplishments of their local colleges and alma maters. Which campuses do you think should have been on our "10 That Get It" list? E-mail us at or add your comments to our "How Green Is Your Campus?" group on Facebook, and maybe you'll help your favorite school make the grade next year.

How painful for an Ole grad to see in a big bubble on page 39 the reference to Carleton College's wind turbine when twin turbines can be seen in Northfield, Minnesota. While St. Olaf College did get a nod on the bottom of the page for its [nontoxic] lab chemicals, I think it's noteworthy that green has been a goal of St. Olaf's for a while now. Not only does it have a wind turbine on campus, too, it also composts all food waste (while shaming students twice a year by displaying the results of that waste in garbage bags in the commons); has an organic farm, STOGROW [St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works], begun by Oles on campus; buys as much food locally for the cafeteria as possible; discourages having cars on campus while offering busing into town for the needs of students; and recycles, recycles, recycles. I have since never lived or worked anywhere where I had to walk more than ten feet to recycle a plastic bottle. I know I'm biased, but my major green love began at Olaf, and it needs to get the credit it deserves.
Brittany Collver
Duluth, Minnesota

Nice piece on the ten eco-hip campuses, but you missed an important one just a 30-minute BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] ride from your office. Ohlone College in Fremont, California, is about to open a new campus in Newark with these features:

  • a 600-kilowatt array of solar panels that will produce 30 percent of the Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology's energy use
  • geothermal and other conservation measures that will result in a 25 percent improvement in energy performance

  • The building is in line for gold LEED certification. Gold certification is based on green building design and construction, brownfield redevelopment, alternative transportation, water-efficient landscaping, optimal energy performance, diversion of 50 to 75 percent of construction waste, use of local and low-emitting materials and recycled-content products (including old blue jeans), thermal comfort, design innovation, and the retention of a LEED-accredited professional.

Ohlone is planning a Green Tie Gala on February 2 to introduce the campus to the community. Stop by and say hi.
Bill Parks
Journalism adviser, Ohlone College
Fremont, California

I'm curious as to why Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, was not mentioned in your article. Their curriculum revolves around taking care of the environment.
Irene Gibson
Holmdel, New Jersey

Although I applaud your effort for tackling the topic of the top ten greenest colleges and universities in the United States, I'm afraid that you are in need of much more research.

First off, check out Prescott College--these folks have been at the forefront of the green movement before it was even called that. Other institutions that should have been on your list: Evergreen State College in Washington and Lewis & Clark College in Oregon.

Having been a student at Prescott and also a professor in the University of California system, I can offer firsthand observation that the UC system is far from green. Prescott, on the other hand, has been a pioneer of environmental ethics. Its alumni list reads like a who's who in environmental efforts. Every student goes through a three-week wilderness-orientation program, buildings are made of recycled materials, it has an organic farm, and on and on. Hope you take a look and revise your list.
Robert Alexander
via e-mail

I can't believe that Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, did not get some mention in your article on cool green schools. Check it out.
Barb Russ
via e-mail

Editor's note: We featured (and praised) Prescott College, Northland College, and the three other schools in the Eco League in another article in the same issue, "A League of Their Own."

If you haven't checked out Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, I think they warrant a look. The daughter of a friend of mine started attending that school a couple of years back, and my wife and I have been very impressed with what we've learned about their focus on environmental issues and how they put that into practice.
Chris Young
Boulder Creek, California

Enjoyed your November/December issue and was especially interested in the article about green colleges. Have you checked out Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania? They have a sustainable farm that feeds the students and faculty, plus many programs for college and community service. They deserve credit too.
Darcy Wagonhurst
Carlisle, Pennsylvania

The ranking of college greening efforts in "Go Big Green" showed there is great public misperception about the sustainability efforts at Princeton University. The ranking apparently relied on a student assessment of sustainability policies from the independent student newspaper. Had we been contacted, we would have been eager to contribute a wealth of information about our initiatives and progress. We also would have noted that we do not rely on symbolic measures or demonstration projects that often attract attention, but do not always serve as meaningful measures of sustainability.

We are addressing all areas of operations, including energy and carbon-dioxide emissions, research, education, outreach, and student initiatives. Already in place are Princeton's Sustainable Building Guidelines, which require environmental and energy performance that exceeds the basic certification under the LEED rating system.

Among other initiatives, the university's central cogeneration plant won the 2007 EPA Award for energy conservation; average gross emissions on campus since 1990 have increased by less than 5 percent, despite significant campus growth; Princeton is unrivaled in its research potential for finding solutions to the global climate crisis; and our students are involved with promoting the full range of campus sustainability initiatives. These elements tend to defy comparison in current rankings.
Shana Weber
Sustainability manager, Princeton University
Princeton, New Jersey

I just read the article on the college campuses that "get it," and wondered where the University of Vermont fit in—it was not listed in the top 10 or honorable mentions. When we visited a summer ago, the University of Vermont was clearly engaged in being a green campus, from a new LEED building under construction to extensive recycling. For comparison, we also visited Northwestern, where the food court was glaringly all fast-food chains with all the usual processed, nonlocal food and packaging, and the buildings were overheated.
Kathleen McLynn
via e-mail

There is a campus here in Minnesota that didn't show up on your list of ten cool schools. The University of Minnesota Morris will most likely be the first carbon-neutral campus in the nation. By the end of next year, it will have reduced its carbon emissions due to facility operations by 80 percent, and may purchase offsets for the remainder of its carbon footprint.
Greg Ackerson
Andover, Minnesota

I've gotten several letters, after I sent out your article on the "10 That Get It," about why you didn't consider Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. They have the first green building in the state, they buy all their chickens from our local organic farm (Norwich Meadows, which sells to chefs in New York City and at the Greenmarket, and they are all about supporting local farmers and produce in the dining halls. Perhaps you didn't know about them. In case you didn't, I thought you should.
Patsy Smith
via e-mail

You must check out Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and its newest dorm, Kaneko Commons, which was constructed of recycled and recyclable non-toxic [materials]. Students in this dorm commit to sustainable communal living and rainwater collected from the roof flushes toilets. Many more excellent things are happening on this campus with its commitment to sustainability; I think Willamette should have had a place on your list. I visit often; my daughter (politics/music, class of 2010) attends.
Janet Zimmerman
Pony, Montana

I was dismayed to not read any mention of my alma mater, the Audubon Expedition Institute, a program now offered through Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The program dates back to 1969, when it was called the Trailside Country School, making it a true pioneer for the "Cool Schools" featured in Sierra. Long before there was a Big Green Bus, AEI students were exploring North American bioregions in small groups on retrofitted school buses, camping everywhere they went. This immersion program for both undergraduate and graduate students creates experiential learning communities that inspire informed and compassionate ecological leadership. Insofar as your article may inspire students to choose one of the schools featured, it is too bad that the Audubon Expedition Institute won't benefit from the recruitment, and too bad for those readers who would have found AEI as perfect for them as I did for myself.
Brian Winters, class of '96
Glenview, Illinois

Please take a serious look at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, for this list. Thanks! My daughter's there majoring in wildland grasses, hydrology, and forestry and this school beat out UC Berkeley and Davis for her attention.
Gail Herstead
via e-mail

I was really disappointed that you didn't mention the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in your issue featuring schools that "get it." MCAD was the first in the world to provide a platform for designers working in sustainable design to create curriculum to serve all designers and businesspeople, not just architects or product designers.

Most of man's impacts happen—before a single tree is cut, or a single mountain "topped"—on the drawing table and in the boardroom. The Sustainable Design certificate program empowers decision-makers to do the right thing from the very start: To be proactive (do more good), rather than reactive (mitigate bad). When you revisit this issue, I hope you will include MCAD's ground-breaking program.
Wendy Jedlicka, CPP
Jedlicka Design, Ltd.
Roseville, Minnesota

I was surprised to see the University of California at Santa Barbara sadly omitted from your rating of best green colleges in the United States. While the UC system as a whole weighed in at number four, there was no mention of its environmental flagship. UCSB's environmental-studies program was one of the first in the country. In fact, the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, and the anti-oil group GOO (Get Oil Out) it spawned, is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern environmental movement. One visit to the campus, where tens of thousands of bicycles dominate the landscape, and you can see that the environs of Isla Vista is far more than a throwback to the '60s. In the mid 1980s, while today's Oberlin greenies (who chalked up your number-one spot) were merely in diapers, the UCSB campus group Environmental Unity was busy brainstorming the feasibility of curbside recycling and other such "drastic" measures to shake up yuppie Southern California.
Paul David Lee
UCSB environmental studies alumnus
via e-mail

The University of California, Irvine, is retrofitting its campus shuttle system to run entirely on biodiesel, reducing its carbon footprint. It also completed a how-to guide several months ago that may be helpful to staff at other institutions looking to convert their fleets to 100 percent biodiesel.
Erin Lane
Erin Lane, senior administrative analyst, University of California, Irvine
Irvine, California

I think the writers of the "Cool Schools" article did a grave disservice by not looking into the practices of the schools' cafeterias. I have found an alarming trend when I visit colleges. The once common practice of using reusable plates and stainless-steel utensils has gone out the window. All the schools I have visited are now using disposable paper and plastic. I'm supposing the reason is budgetary. Even environmentally sensitive students don't seem to notice this waste.

If you figure that school is in session for nine months and there are, say, 12,000 students eating two meals a day in the cafeteria, there would be about 6.48 million each of forks, plates, and cups being used one time and thrown away. This is such a stark example of how not to behave environmentally that I hope the word gets out to all those paying, caring parents and that, in the future, you ask specifically about this practice when writing an article. Maybe then the tide can be reversed. Thank you for letting me point out this tragic trend.
Suzanne Richman
Bethesda, Maryland

I just returned from a trip to historic Williamsburg and the beautiful campus of the College of William and Mary. It was horrifying to see exclusively plastic everything used in the dining halls of the oldest and most historic school in the country. I had just been at UC Davis, where everything, including the dining facilities, is green. Please send a copy of your magazine to the College of William and Mary so that they may be enlightened.
Ruth Donohugh
Kentfield, California

University and college students deserve kudos for their work in greening their campuses, but there is an even greater impact they can make right in their own dorms. Do they monitor how much water is being used for those long, hot showers? Are windows being left open in climate-controlled dorms, letting out precious heat or cool air? Are lights being left on unnecessarily? Are computers turned off at bedtime? Are there unnecessary power suckers (electric toothbrushes, heated curlers, etc.) being left on? Is a refrigerator in a dorm room really a necessity? There is much to be done before we can say that colleges are ecofriendly.
Barbara Rohrer
Centennial, Colorado

Wow, is this old lady proud! My alma mater, Berea College, was No. 7 on the list of coolest schools. I attended homecoming recently and toured the campus, marveling at all of the ecological work that is being done. The best part? The influence this will have on students!
Roberta Larew Allison, class of '42
via e-mail

Thank you so much for informing readers about green colleges. Some of the campuses mentioned, such as Warren Wilson College, Berea College, and Middlebury College are indeed exemplars. Oberlin College is the home of Professor David Orr, who deserves a category all by himself. But the decision to not include the Eco League consortium in your top ten is puzzling. A guide to green colleges that doesn't extol some of the greenest is a conundrum.

Indeed, what is a "green college"? Should a college be considered green because students vote to pay an extra $25 a year for green energy and the school is cutting back on energy use? I would suggest that for a prospective student, the most important aspects of a green college are the academic and cultural ones: Does the college have a green ethos? Does ecological literacy run deep through the various majors? What does it mean to be a green thinker? Can you get a "green education" at a college that has no field studies, no history of interdisciplinary or critical thought? At a college that has only one recent or weak environmental-studies program? How successful is the college at directing students to meaningful and good-paying careers? These questions go beyond organic gardens and green dorms—though I do consider them both very valuable indeed.

For families interested in learning more about Warren Wilson College (I confess, two of my own children attended there), Northland College, Berea College, Prescott College, and other green and socially responsible colleges and universities, both public and private, may I humbly direct them to my book, Making a Difference Colleges, which is now in its tenth edition. It is certainly the only college guide endorsed by Julia Butterfly Hill, Green Teacher magazine, and the late David Brower.
Miriam Weinstein
San Anselmo, California

CONTACT US Tell us what you think about Sierra. E-mail or write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105. Please include your name, city or town, and e-mail address or daytime phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

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