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The Green Rating: How We Score Schools
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The Green Rating was developed with you in mind.
We assembled a panel of experts in higher education green practices to produce a survey for school administrators. The panel then selected key questions and weighted them for the rating. As with all our research, nearly all 4-year colleges and universities are invited to participate early in the year. We then produce the rating for each participating college based on their responses.
This rating, on a scale of 60–99, provides a comprehensive measure of a school's performance as an environmentally aware and prepared institution. Specifically, it includes 1) whether students have a campus quality of life that is both healthy and sustainable, 2) how well a school is preparing students for employment in the clean-energy economy of the 21st century as well as for citizenship in a world now defined by environmental concerns and opportunities and 3) how environmentally responsible a school's policies are.
Additionally, The Princeton Review, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and Sierra magazine have now collaborated on an effort to streamline the reporting process for institutions that choose to participate in various higher education sustainability assessments. The intent of this initiative is to reduce and streamline the amount of time campus staff spend tracking sustainability data and completing related surveys.
To address this issue, these four groups have worked to establish the Campus Sustainability Data Collector (CSDC). The CSDC is based on the STARS Reporting Tool and is available for all schools (free of charge) that would like to submit data to these groups in one single survey. Please find more information here: http://www.princetonreview.com/green-data-partnership/.
We asked all the schools we annually collect data from to answer questions about their efforts to provide (and continually develop) an environmentally beneficial student experience. The questions were created in consultation with ecoAmerica, a research- and partnership-based environmental nonprofit that convened an expert committee to design this comprehensive ranking system. Questions it covers include:
What is the percentage of food expenditures that goes toward local, organic or otherwise environmentally preferable food?
"Purchasing local and especially local organic food provides healthier dining options for students, local economic support and reduced global warming and pesticide pollution. And it's just one example of how what's good for you is good for the community and the planet."
Does the school offer programs including mass transit programs, bike sharing, facilities for bicyclists, bicycle and pedestrian plans, car sharing, a carpool discount, carpool/vanpool matching, cash-out of parking, prohibiting idling, local housing, telecommuting, and a condensed workweek?
"It's simple: Do you want to go to a school that forces you to drive everywhere and spend 20 minutes looking for a parking spot in hazy air or somewhere that makes it easy for you to get around and enjoy a clean campus without the hassle and cost of a car? By providing public or shared transportation that increases access, schools can improve the college experience while reducing pollution."
Does the school have a formal committee with participation from students that is devoted to advancing sustainability on campus?
"Opportunities for involvement in key school decisions mean that you can both improve school quality of life and get valuable experience for your career. Even if you're not on the committee, you and your peers can get involved in the student groups that participate in the process and have a voice. And schools with an inclusive approach, with participation from administration to faculty and staff to students, ensure more dynamic, long-lasting solutions."
Are school buildings that were constructed or underwent major renovations in the past three years LEED certified?
"Building according to high LEED standards means more fresh air, natural light and fewer toxins. Studies show improved health, a better classroom experience and reduced energy costs over the long term. The LEED rating program provides a credible, respected measure of building energy efficiency and environmental design for schools to build sustainable structures."
What is a school's overall waste-diversion rate?
"It boils down to this question: Piles of trash outside the dorm and dining hall or less waste and lots of easy recycling bins? A waste-diversion rate measures both the reduction in waste output and a school's rate of recycling."
Does the school have an environmental studies major, minor or concentration?
"Students want to get good jobs and lead responsible lives, lives that make a positive difference for society. To do that, undergrads need access to environmental studies courses that provide an understanding of how the global ecosystem works and prepare you for future opportunities. Even if you don't major in environmental studies, a school's commitment to the field means you have more course options to ensure you get the background you need."
Do the school's students graduate from programs that include sustainability as a required learning outcome or include multiple sustainability learning outcomes?
"Environmental literacy is becoming a core necessity, regardless of career or interest, as companies are increasingly asking employees to consider the bigger picture. Working as an economist or in the business sector? You'll need to look at the price of carbon. Entering the computer science field? You'll have to think about reducing energy use. Designing buildings? Know the wood that has the least environmental impact and think about where the trash goes."
Does the school have a formal plan to mitigate its greenhouse gas emissions?
"Climate change will affect every aspect of our lives. Leading climate scientists say that a minimum of 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions midcentury will be necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change. A school that has an inventory and a plan is not only taking responsible action, it is more likely to have the experience to deliver the training you need for your life and your career."
What percentage of the school's energy consumption is derived from renewable resources?
"No school will be able to reduce its energy consumption to zero. But every university can make sure that the energy it does use is healthier for students and the planet by being clean and renewable. So in addition to efficiency improvements and conservation efforts that cut energy use, campuses should make sure the remaining power they do use comes from renewable sources."
Does the school employ a dedicated full-time (or full-time equivalent) sustainability officer?
"Ensuring a school is healthy for students and for the planet takes focused and continuous attention. Schools that are serious and sincere about sustainability simply can't succeed without hiring professionals to coordinate campus-wide efforts that improve the student experience."
Colleges that did not supply answers to a sufficient number of the questions for us to fairly compare them to other schools received a Green Rating of 60*. The schools have an opportunity to update their sustainability data every year and will have their ratings recalculated and published annually.
All italicized quotations are from Jared Duval, a fellow at Demos, where he helped found the Emerging Voices Initiative. He is the author of Next Generation Democracy: What the Open Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change.