Given the choice, would you rather live in an energy hog of a dorm with poor ventilation and very little natural light, or a dorm that saves energy with a green roof and water-efficient toilets and faucets? Even if you don't fancy yourself an environmentalist, it's important to recognize that the programs and policies a school adopts can greatly impact your quality of life (not to mention the future of the planet). When decision makers spend the time and effort to employ healthy and efficient practices, they are displaying responsibility and respect for the campus community.
Sustainable schools make a point to account for green attributes when designing and operating their buildings. Many of their facilities incorporate natural lighting, improve air quality, and reduce energy and water use. For instance, the solar panels at Colgate University's dorm at 100 Broad Street allow residents to use renewable solar energy instead of fossil fuel for their hot water use. On many campuses green or “living” roofs absorb rainwater and provide insulation while lights on timers save schools money as well as energy. Real-time energy reporting like at Middlebury College's Franklin Environmental Center allows you to easily see the building's hour-by-hour solar electricity production as well as electricity and water consumption. In turn, these attributes foster more welcoming academic and social communities and result in buildings that are better places to live, learn, and play.
Going green also improves your quality of life when it comes to dining. Schools such as Bucknell University in Pennsylvania believe that food tastes better when it's local and organic. They forego long distance, low-grade cafeteria food and offer their students fresh and local cuisine, from campus farms or greenmarkets, whenever possible. You'll love how sustainable dining often translates to varied nutrition options. Many schools are 100 percent trayless (to reduce water usage, food waste and electricity), compost kitchen food waste (which can be used to fertilize the campus), and utilize biodegradable paper and packaging.
Consider how mobility plays into your standard of living. How “walkable” is a particular campus? Is public transportation accessible? Some schools have thriving bike cultures — Lewis & Clark College's bike sharing program gives its student access to bikes, safety gear, and training as well as strategically placed bike repair stations around campus for when students need a quick bolt tightening or tire pump. Others transport riders via campus shuttle, or offer a myriad of other transportation options, from free bus passes to car-share programs. You'll definitely appreciate the freedom these choices afford, all while lessening your environmental impact.