Unsuspecting Pioneers of Renewable Energy

  • June 22, 2011
  • INK Team

Working with clean energy clients, I stay up-to-speed with the latest news about the energy industry, particularly the U.S. renewable energy industry. And as a relatively recent college graduate, university life is still fresh in my mind. Considering this, I have come to realize:

U.S. colleges and universities are leading proponents of sustainability and renewable energy.

These days, American colleges are not only judged by prospective students on their acceptance rates, student-teacher ratios and tuitions, but also on their levels of green-ness. The Princeton Review, for example, has introduced Green Ratings, which “evaluate colleges and universities on their environmentally-related policies, practices and academic offerings.” The Princeton Review now annually releases a Guide to the 311 Green Colleges, as well as publishes each school’s Green Rating in the annual guide, The Best Colleges.

Topping the 2011 Princeton Review Green Honor Roll are well-known schools like Harvard College, UC Berkeley and Yale, but being green isn’t limited to prestige. The list is saturated with lesser-known schools, such as Unity College in Maine. Unity College has adopted the moniker “America’s Environmental College,” boasting a Center for Environmental Education, using only Green Seal-certified cleaning products and, most notably, deriving 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

Unity College is among a vast network of colleges and universities pioneering the sustainability and renewable energy fronts. For example:

Dartmouth College in New Hampshire built a grid storage system that uses tanks of compressed air to store energy—and sparked SustainX, a company that recently received $14.4 million in funding from GE;

Wesleyan University in Connecticut generates its own energy from sources like wind, solar, geothermal, biogas and biomass;

American University in Washington, D.C. (my Alma Mater) recently opened a campus building that has been designated LEED Gold Certified—“the benchmark for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”—based on sustainable design and efficiency. Schools around the country are rushing to LEED certify their newest buildings;

Drexel University in Pennsylvania has arranged for cardio machines in its recreation center to produce 50 watt hours of energy over a 30-minute workout.

Colleges and universities throughout the U.S. are placing extreme importance on their green initiatives. Is it to bump up the schools’ rating on another prestigious list? To work toward states’ Renewable Energy Standards? To appease outspoken, environmentally-minded students? No matter the motive, these schools have become pioneers for sustainable practices and renewable energy. The renewable energy industry would be smart to look to these institutions for support. After all, they have the motivation, financial backing and innovative bright minds equipped to advance the industry.

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