CONCORD, N.H. — Methane gas coming from a nearby landfill provides the University of New Hampshire with almost all of its campus energy and the school composts tens of thousands of food waste each month. It also is home to the country’s first organic dairy research farm.
These are just a few of the efforts that have helped the university earn a reputation as one of the country’s most sustainable higher education institutions. Last month, the school was awarded the top rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education or AASHE. It is only the third university to achieve the honor, joining Stanford University and Colorado State University.
“Many universities are talking about being sustainable. We are actually doing the work,” said Miriam Nelson, director of UNH’s Sustainability Institute.
Along with its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the university was praised for incorporating sustainability into its curriculum. It offers more than 450 undergraduate and 120 graduate courses with a sustainability component and has three sustainably focused majors.
The university is among hundreds of higher education institutions that have embraced green initiatives to reduce their carbon footprints and save money. Many are sourcing more energy from renewables or are working toward becoming carbon neutral. A campaign launched earlier this month from Environment America and the Student Public Interest Research Groups is aiming for 100 percent renewable energy on dozens of campuses in 10 states.
Scores of lists now exist to highlight the greenest of the green institutions — from Sierra Club’s Cool Schools to the Princeton Review’s Guide to 375 Green Colleges . UNH often appears on these lists but is not alone in New England. Five of the top 15 most environmentally responsible colleges are in Vermont and Maine, according to the Princeton Review’s annual guide to green colleges. They are: the College of the Atlantic and Colby College, both in Maine, and the University of Vermont, Saint Michael’s College and Green Mountain College in Vermont.
The University of Vermont has invested in efficiency measures around campus with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, according the Princeton Review. In Maine, The College of the Atlantic topped Princeton Review’s “Top 50 Green Colleges of 2017.”
“Higher education is uniquely positioned because we are there to essentially ensure the world’s future leaders are motivated and equipped to solve various challenges sustainability,” said Monika Urbanski, of AASHE.
“It’s not just the right thing to do,” she said. “More students thinking about college are also thinking about what higher education institutions are sustainably minded. That might play into what college they are going to choose.”