AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst is one of the top 22 among more than 800 colleges nationwide recognized this month as a “Green Honor Roll School” by The Princeton Review. Giving the flagship campus of the Commonwealth’s public university system a perfect 99 on a 99-point scale this week, the Review’s annual Best 378 Colleges guide salutes schools for being “environmentally aware and responsible institutions.”
Specifically, the reviewers say the ranking considers whether students have a campus quality of life that is both healthy and sustainable, how well a school is preparing students not only for employment in the clean energy economy of the 21st century, but also for citizenship in a world now defined by environmental challenges, and how environmentally responsible a school’s policies are.
This is the third time in four years that UMass Amherst has been recognized by the Princeton Review for its sustainability programs and accomplishments, but a first for making the Honor Roll. President Obama’s administration saluted UMass Amherst as a national leader in sustainable higher education in 2012 when the campus won first place among 1,500 colleges in the White House Campus Champions of Change competition for its Permaculture Initiative.
Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says, “It is very heartening that not only are our students making a huge impact with their passion for sustainability and environment-friendly practices in all areas of campus life, but our faculty and staff also are wholeheartedly supportive. There is a campus-wide groundswell for green initiatives here at every level. We are all enormously proud to be national leaders of the green campus movement.”
Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager, adds, “UMass Amherst students, faculty and staff are proud to learn, live and lead green. We’re thoroughly delighted to be recognized for this at the national level once again.”
At UMass Amherst, Small explains, sustainability is part of academic life. More than 250 courses include some emphasis on the topic and 25 of the almost 90 undergraduate majors are sustainability-related.Also, three new graduate programs encourage advanced study in sustainability, including an accelerated Master’s in Sustainability Science.
Students also lead campus-wide green initiatives. They direct the blue-ribbon Permaculture Initiative, run a new U.S. Green Building Council student chapter and serve on the Chancellor’s Sustainability Committee. Further, 80 eco-reps promote sustainability practices to their peers in the residence halls, while sustainability fellows oversee sustainability activities ranging from Green Games and Sustainable Move-out to the Green Office Program.
In addition to student involvement, the campus has made notable strides in reducing its carbon footprint. The EPA-award-winning central heating plant provides 100 percent of heating and 73 percent of electrical needs on campus, while a comprehensive recycling and composting program diverts 56 percent of waste from landfills. Every new building since 2011 has been certified LEED Gold, and 13 LEED-registered projects are now underway.
Sustainability is also a main ingredient of the university’s top-rated dining services, which purchases 28 percent of its produce locally, and is one of the largest in-house dining programs to sign the Real Food Challenge Commitment. The new Sustainability Engagement Fund set to begin this fall will award grants to students, faculty and staff to develop sustainable solutions for campus.
In conducting its research for the “Green Honor Roll,” Princeton Review asked the hundreds of schools from which it collects data to answer questions about efforts to and develop an environmentally responsible student experience. Some of the questions look for information on the percentage of food expenditures going to local, organic or otherwise environmentally preferable food and what the campus’s overall waste diversion rate is. Others asked about transportation programs offering free bus passes, bike sharing/renting, car sharing, carpool parking and vanpooling.
UMass Amherst also successfully showed that it has a formal committee involving students devoted to advancing campus sustainability and that it has a publicly available greenhouse gas emissions inventory and has adopted a climate action plan consistent with 80 percent greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2050 targets, Small points out. Other data considered by Princeton Review include whether the school has an environmental studies major, minor or concentration, a full-time sustainability officer and what percentage of its energy consumption is derived from renewable sources.
Princeton Review developed the criteria and questions for this rating in 2008 with ecoAmerica, a research and partnership-based environmental nonprofit organization.