State of the Campus Environment Press Release

Are Colleges and Universities Making Green Grades?

The nation's 14 million college students are obtaining their higher education on campuses that provide a green model for the future, according to the first national survey of college and university environmental practices conducted by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). State of the Campus Environment: A National Report Card on Environmental Performance and Sustainability in Higher Education reveals that many schools are making the grade by embracing sound environmental practices, but at the same time others are due for environmental remediation.

"A surprising number of colleges and universities, of all types and sizes and in all regions of the country, are taking a lead role in striking a balance between the needs of people and the environment," said Julian Keniry, manager of NWF's Campus Ecology program. "The best campuses in this survey are providing a green compass for others to follow."

The survey, conducted in partnership with Princeton Survey Research Associates (PSRA), found enhanced environmental responsibility driving decisions in every part of campus life, affecting everything from curriculum to purchasing decisions to landscaping. Asked why, 64 percent of those responding said that environmental concerns are now integral to the culture and values on America's campuses.

A timely finding from the survey shows America's colleges and universities making significant use of conservation and efficiency to meet energy needs; 80 percent of the schools responding have introduced lighting efficiency upgrades to save energy, earning an A for efforts in this category. Other examples include:

  • Almost all have programs in place or in the works to increase energy efficiency for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and water use.
  • Nearly a quarter meet some of their energy needs from renewable sources.
  • Twelve percent of the schools power at least part of their fleet vehicles with alternative fuels.

Another solid A was given for efforts to conserve water, with 72 percent of schools reporting they have installed efficient toilets, showerheads and faucets.

Recycling stands out as one of the more popular campus environmental programs (65 percent) but still needs improving. While campuses can be applauded for recycling a broad array of materials ranging from all grades of paper to building and construction materials, they only earn a C when it comes to how much waste they divert from landfills and incinerators (about 26 percent on average).

Environmental consciousness has grabbed a weaker foothold in college curriculum, scoring a C plus for environmental focus in chemistry and political science programs, and a D for education and engineering. While a number of colleges and universities stand out for educating students in all disciplines about environmental sustainability, the survey found that, unless a student is majoring in biology or environmental studies, they most likely will complete their school career without gaining basic environmental literacy. For example:

  • Only eight percent require all their students to take an environmental studies course;
  • While 68 percent of biology departments and 33 percent of political science programs offer undergraduate environmental courses, only 12 percent of engineering and 11 percent of education programs currently offer such courses.

Transportation is another area where schools need to be more diligent. With a grade of C minus, transportation management remains largely untapped territory on U.S. campuses. Short of offering bike racks, other key initiatives for reducing single occupant vehicles were largely missing from the schools reporting.

The depth of information provided in this survey highlights where colleges are leading the way, and where they are lagging behind. Lander Medlin, executive vice president of the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers, and one of the survey's co-sponsors, believes the Report Card represents a landmark study. "For the first time, we can see broad trends that will help us set priorities and establish benchmarks for improving environmental performance and better educating students because the two go hand in hand."

The State of the Campus Environment findings are based on responses from 891 institutions of higher education in the U.S., including responses from presidents, academic provosts, and chiefs of administration and operations. Questions covered a broad spectrum including issues of management, curriculum and operations. Nearly 22 percent of U.S. higher education institutions responded to the survey, the first of its kind. Responses came from schools that are excelling in their environmental performance as well as those campuses where much more work needs to be done. NWF and PSRA believe the response rates are truly representative of college environmental practices across the nation.

"These results give a good cross-sectional snapshot of environmental performance on campuses throughout the country," says Dr. Mary McIntosh, survey leader and vice president of Princeton Survey Research Associates. "This data should inspire further discussion about the importance of sustainability and how best to achieve it."

The National Wildlife Federation is committed to using these findings as part of its ongoing effort to enhance the contribution of colleges and universities to addressing the environmental challenges facing our world. Another NWF report, Green Investment, Green Return, has already documented that campus environmental commitment can substantially cut operating costs and lower the bottom line.

"The National Wildlife Federation is interested not only in helping colleges and universities reduce their toll on the environment, but also in providing students the practical lessons and tools they need to implement positive change when they leave the campus," said Mark Van Putten, president & CEO of NWF.

National Wildlife Federation's Campus Ecology Program was established in 1989 to work with the college campus community (students, faculty, administrators and managers) to promote ecological stewardship on campuses and in their surrounding communities.

Read the report

Learn more  about the State of the Campus Environment project.

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