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Now, ‘green’ report cards for U.S. colleges

New rating systems help students choose environmentally friendly colleges.

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Going green: The McLaughlin Cluster residence halls on the Dartmouth College campus recently received a gold LEED rating.

Courtesy of Dartmouth College

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Students looking to narrow their college choices will soon have something new to consider alongside academics and campus life: A “Green Rating” makes its debut this summer in several of The Princeton Review’s popular college guides. Six-hundred college profiles will include a score reflecting factors such as building and transportation policies, food sources, recycling, and availability of environmental courses.

In response to students’ growing appetite for all things environmentally friendly, several groups have begun tracking schools’ commitment to going green. But such ratings might be productive only to the degree that they spur thoughtful initiatives, pushing schools to collaborate as much as compete, experts say. If it veers toward “keeping up with the Joneses,” some observers caution, it might only increase college costs at a time when affordability is a major concern.

“We’re definitely seeing schools that look at sustainability as a strategic priority and a way of distinguishing themselves, and there are many schools that are striving to be ... the ‘greenest’ campus,” says Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in Lexington, Ky., which has been piloting a rating system in which schools can participate.

The College Sustainability Report Card, put out by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) in Cambridge, Mass., gives letter grades to at least 200 public and private schools with the largest endowments. In addition to green campus factors, it grades how well a school uses its investment leverage to advocate for the environment. “When people are comparing schools that all say they are leaders on sustainability ... [they can now] peek behind those statements,” says executive director Mark Orlowski.

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