Competition Heats Up For Green Prestige On Campus

July 23, 2008

Among the many organizations on the green bandwagon in the past few years have been universities and colleges. A few schools have been making green efforts for years, but many others are now hopping aboard, in part as an incentive to help recruit students. As students and their parents prepare for fall classes, articles on green campuses will be timely.

In order to get a better handle on green campus efforts, a few organizations have begun to rate universities and colleges on a variety of environmental topics.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute released its "College Sustainability Report Card 2008" on Oct. 24, 2007. This assessment, which is the second produced by SEI, covers the 200 public and private schools with the largest endowments. Topics covered by 39 indicators include administrative practices, climate change and energy, food, recycling, green building, transportation, and endowment investments.

The Princeton Review is adding a green rating category to the many other topics it already evaluates for hundreds of schools. The first green ratings, for about 600 schools, will be released the afternoon of July 28, 2008, in its annual college guides, including regionally-focused publications that cover some of the smaller schools. The green ratings will be based on a number of objective measurements of indicators such as energy use, food sources, course offerings, and sustainability initiatives. This objective approach differs from what the publisher uses for assessments in its 62 other categories, which are based on student feedback.

Ratings such as these can provide a starting point for your stories. In addition, there are numerous other organizations — many formed in the past couple of years — that are focusing on various aspects of green schools:

In addition to these national efforts, some states have their own networks of colleges and universities working at various levels of environmentally sustainable education and facilities operations and management. A couple of examples include:

The federal government is chipping in via EPA's Green Power Partnership, which includes a "College and University Green Power Challenge" that sets up a competition among athletic conferences to see which conference, and which schools in each conference, can purchase the most green power. Current standings and numerous potential contacts.

Along with these school-focused efforts, don't forget to check all the regular databases for concerns such as air and water pollutant releases, sewer system discharges from sources such as chemistry labs, violations of various standards and permits, and drinking water quality. A good central starting point is EPA's Databases and Software.

For a couple of examples of innovative ways to cover schools of interest to your audience, check out two projects from the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University:

For examples of other media coverage of green schools: