More and more students are seeking out colleges and universities considered “green” and “Eco-friendly.” Whether these students are looking for a formal education in order to pursue careers in environmentalism, or are just dedicated to living lives of sustainability, there are a number of colleges that have proven themselves just as dedicated to the idea of sustainable living. As a result, campus farms are thriving, buildings are being renovated to LEED standards, trays are disappearing from dining halls, and energy usage and waste are decreasing dramatically.
All of the schools on this list have unique structures or lifestyle characteristics that make them leaders in sustainability. They have all earned formal “green” ratings from one major agency or another, and most have been recognized by respected groups such as the Sierra Club. Most importantly, each of these 50 schools is relatively affordable, and has an estimated net price of under $25,000 a year – in other words, these are around or less than the average of what one would expect to spend on a year in college. (See tuition source information at the end of this article.)
After reviewing more than 300 universities, we believe these fifty to be the very best eco-friendly schools under $25,000 a year. They are ordered based from most expensive to least expensive.
50. Oregon State University
Oregon State University may not have constructed any LEED-certified buildings as of yet, but they are fully committed to their eco-friendly reputation. To name just one example: students using any one of the twenty-two elliptical machines in the recreation center are simultaneously generating power for the building. This type of green innovation was rewarded with the Green Power Leadership Award from the EPA and first place in the national RecycleMania competition (OSU cut its waste by a whopping 40 percent!). For those interested in turning their green lifestyle into a career, OSU offers a number of environmentally-focused majors, including the popular Ecological Engineering, and runs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute.
49. California University of Pennsylvania
48. San Francisco State University
San Francisco, California
47. California State University Chico
46. Arizona State University
45. The Ohio State University
44. Towson University
43. Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
42. Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio
41. Georgia Southern University
40. California State Polytechnic School — Pomona
39. Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, Florida
38. University of Louisville
University of Louisville is determined to reach its goal of climate neutrality by 2050. All new construction and building renovations are completed using LEED standards, and so far, UofL has been rewarded with three LEED Gold facilities and four Silver. Additional buildings on campus are experimenting with other forms of renewable energy, such as the dual-axis tracking solar array on Sackett Hall. UofL students are also doing their part to encourage others to get involved. Last year, the Cardinals hosted Bluegrass Unplugged, in which colleges from all around the Bluegrass State competed to see who could reduce electricity usage in residence halls the most.
37. Grand Valley State University
36. James Madison University
James Madison University has fully embraced its role as a leader in the green campus movement. Since signing both the ACUPCC and the Talloires Declaration, two groundbreaking documents in college sustainability, JMU has introduced a farmer’s market on campus, transformed its campus transportation system, and greatly expanded its award-winning recycling and composting program. Faculty all across the JMU campus are actively engaged in sustainability-related research, thereby making available to students a number of green internships. JMU also hosts several popular student clubs, including E.A.R.T.H. Club and the Environmental Management Club.
35. Coastal Carolina University
Conway, South Carolina
Coastal Carolina University’s impressive eco-friendly endeavors are all managed by its Campus and Community Sustainability Initiative. Such endeavors include the Eco-Rep Program, the Student Green Team, and the Students for Environmental Action student club. CCU was the first university in South Carolina to offer a fleet of Zip cars, and also offers an organized bike share, a school-developed bicycle plan, a free campus shuttle, and subsidized transit passes. The Sustainability Initiative also works closely with Facilities Planning and Management in order to achieve LEED Silver or better for all new construction and renovations.
34. University of Maine — Farmington
33. Florida State University
32. Old Dominion University
31. Central Washington University
Central Washington University has been an eco-friendly campus since long before LEED standards and ACUPCC initiatives. Environmental Studies has been offered as a program of study for more than thirty years. Still, this hasn’t stopped the advent of modern-day campus organizations such as the Landscape Values Institute, which addresses land-use planning; the Center for Spatial Information, which is currently engaged in research on the environment and economics in the Pacific Northwest; and the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, which is home to three humanely-treated chimps at the center of educational programs for local school groups.
30. Ball State University
29. Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
28. Salisbury University
27. State University of New York at Albany
Albany, New York
26. Southern Oregon University
25. The Evergreen State College
24. State University of New York at Oswego
Oswego, New York
23. University of Arkansas — Fayetteville
22. Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
21. Morgan State University
20. Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
19. University of South Florida
18. University of Idaho
17. Framingham State University
16. Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Tech is home to the largest university residence hall in the world with LEED Gold status, a renovated Olympic Village that is now home to more than 2,000 students. Georgia Tech tops yet another list with its 1.4 million-gallon campus cistern, which collects rain and condensation water for flushing and irrigation, and is the largest of any system on any U.S. campus. The cistern itself is part of the new Undergraduate Commons, a sustainability showcase building which boasts green labs, a garden roof, solar pv, dashboard, and much more.
15. Indiana State University
Terre Haute, Indiana
Indiana State University has already reduced its current carbon emissions to nearly half of 1990 levels. This success has come on the back of a number of new initiatives implemented after a campus-wide survey revealed that 80% of the school’s entire population believed that environmental sustainability was a cause for concern. Some of ISU’s most impressive initiations include a number of projects at its campus community garden, the installation of a wind turbine, an educational greenhouse, and a popular Environmental Science Club.
14. North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
13. Western Michigan University
The only university in Michigan with a student sustainability fee, Western Michigan University is making great strides in its effort to build an Eco-friendly and sustainability-minded campus. All new construction and renovation must achieve LEED Silver or better, and so far, both LEED-certified buildings have managed to do so. To encourage the purchase and use of electric vehicles, WMU has installed more than twenty free charging stations around campus. Other major initiatives include a heat recovery system that uses heat from the Ice Arena chillers for the Olympic-sized swimming pool, occupancy-based light sensors, Energy Star appliances, tray-less dining, low-flow showers and faucets, chemical-free water treatment, and much more.
12. Iowa State University
Iowa State University has proven itself willing to go above and beyond when it comes to campus sustainability. Ambitiously, it requires all new construction and major renovation projects to achieve LEED Gold certification. So far, it has succeeded, with two of its buildings achieving the even higher status of Platinum. The implementation of tray-less dining services reduced food waste by more than 50%, and the food that is wasted is composted at the University’s very own compost facility. Active student groups include a Solar Decathlon team, The GreenHouse Group, and Keep Iowa State Beautiful.
11. California State University Monterey Bay
10. New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
9. Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
It makes sense that a school as aesthetically pleasing and recreationally rich as Appalachian State University would be so dedication to sustainable campus life. The University has seventeen renewable energy installations on campus, including North Carolina’s largest installed wind turbine. Transportation alternatives such as free or subsidized mass transit, car sharing, and ride sharing are all encouraged of both students and faculty. A new 396-acre teaching and research farm allows students the opportunity to enhance classroom lessons and learn about agroforestry and sustainable farming practices. Last year, Appalachian was chosen as one of only three universities to compete in Solar Decathlon Europe.
8. Portland State University
7. Frostburg State University
6. University of Alaska — Fairbanks
5. University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
4. New Mexico Highlands University
Las Vegas, NV
3. University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, Iowa
2. Lincoln University
Jefferson City, Missouri
1. Berea College
Berea College has proven itself a model of green higher education. Not only did it have the first LEED-certified building in Kentucky, that building successfully achieved LEED Platinum. Berea’s Ecovillage residential complex provides fifty sustainable residential accommodations for student families, all of which include individual garden plots, low-flush toilets, and a community aquaphonics system where student residents raise tilapia, catfish, herbs, and vegetables. The College Farm and Garden produces much of the food offered on campus, though the College also works with a number of local farmers. Berea also boasts a almost 9,000 acres of forest, streams, and ponds, where students are given hands-on lessons about the natural world.
Tuition Source Information
- For purposes of this article, a moderate college budget is assumed to be around $22,826/yr. Source
- Net price was gathered from College Navigator. In-state net price was used, if available.