By Iris Stone
Published February 2015
In this article, we examine best values in green colleges – colleges and universities who are at the forefront in environmentally sustainable practices.
In the past 30 years or so, many people have taken an interest in environmentalism and sustainability. This is in response to a flood of studies by scientists showing that climate change is a serious global issue. Information about the depleting ozone layer, melting ice caps, and our dwindling natural resources have encouraged many countries around the world to start taking action. Private corporations have gotten involved too, and we've all benefited from electric cars, solar panels, eco-friendly cleaning products, and more.
Most agree that there's still a lot of work to do in the United States before we can truly consider ourselves "green." Many U.S. universities have committed themselves to doing their part. Some schools in particular boast an impressive list of sustainable policies, student volunteer opportunities, and low-impact building practices that will appeal to environmentally-conscious students.
If you're getting ready to apply to college and consider environmental friendliness a priority, this list is a great place to start. Of course we always place emphasis on the schools the "best value," and so have considered their affordability when doing our research as well. The result is a list of the 30 Best Value Green Colleges in the United States.
In short, we considered seven categories when ranking schools: Net Price; Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) Ranking; Number of "Green" Majors; Number of Research Centers and Institutes with a Sustainable Focus; "Green" Student Volunteer Opportunities; Outdoor/Nature-Focused Recreational Activities; and Quality/Quantity of Environmental Policies on Campus. For more information about the comprehensive methodology we used, click here. On our methodology page, you can also see a full list of the more than 300 schools we researched, as well as their scores.
In the mean time, read below to see the 30 highest scoring schools in our ranking. We start with #30 and leave you with the #1 school, and you'll notice along the way that we've included each institution's net price, total awarded points, and percent score for each institution.
30. Arizona State University
Arizona State University offers environment-minded students a wealth of opportunities to care for the planet while pursuing their education. This affordable green college offers 12 "green majors" – with specializations that include Society and Sustainability and Policy and Governance in Sustainable Systems. Students may also volunteer with the USG Green Team, which organizes students toward on-campus sustainability, or join ASU Grow to maintain a sustainable, organic desert garden. ASU earned four stars in STARS, which helps universities track their green-campus progress. ASU also allows undergraduates to undertake research in sustainability.
Total Points: 237.7
Net Price: $13,061/yr
29. Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, KY
In addition to offering programs such as bike rentals to students, faculty and staff, Western Kentucky University funds campus-wide green initiatives from energy conservation to sustainable landscape maintenance. Princeton Review also named WKU among the nation's most green colleges. Student groups include Americans for an Informed Democracy, as well as clubs focused on ecology, geology, and horticulture. The campus houses the Community Farmer's Market, which allows the greater Bowling Green community year-round access to fresh fruits and vegetables. WKU has also declared itself a Fair Trade university, working with food service contractors to provide responsibly sourced coffee, tea, and other products.
Total Points: 238.5
Net Price: $10,597/yr
28. University of Arkansas – Fayetteville
Students at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, one of America's best green colleges, can add a minor or graduate certificate in sustainability to their educational portfolio. Courses include Environmental History, Soils and Civilization, and Foundations of Sustainability. Student groups actively recover unused food from university dining halls and outside vendors, promote green awareness within the campus Greek community, and complete projects related to the environmental sciences. The university is also recycling and composting to eventually become a "zero-waste" institution – diverting 90% or more of waste – by 2021. To this end, the university hosts Zero Waste Events in order to showcase sustainability in action.
Total Points: 238.8
Net Price: $12,057
27. State University of New York at Binghamton
Faculty, staff, and students at the State University of New York at Binghamton work together to make their campus more sustainable, whether it's in the dining halls or via solar power. In fact, the Engineering and Science Building uses geothermal heating and cooling, as well as natural lighting and passive solar energy. Students may also choose from several green specializations when enrolling in the school's bachelor's degree program in Environmental Studies. SUNY-Binghamton offers a combined bachelor's/master's degree program in Environmental Studies and Public Administration as well. Research-oriented students can take advantage of Binghamton's Centers for Integrated Watershed Studies and Advanced Microelectronics Manufacturing.
Total Points: 239.1
Net Price: $14,914/yr
26. College of William and Mary
The College of William and Mary boasts more than a dozen environmental groups that are open to students who seek a greener education. Options include cycling and rock-climbing clubs, the Environmental Law Society, and the Student Environmental Action Coalition. This affordable green college also offers a plethora of environment-related courses across a number of departments, from Biology and Applied Science to Film Studies and Psychology. Students may also apply to become EcoAmbassadors who help green office practices, enlighten communities about sustainability, and empower others to complete sustainability projects. EcoAmbassadors may even qualify for course credit under the Environmental Science and Policy program.
Total Points: 239.5
Net Price: $11,534/yr
25. University of Georgia
Students seeking an environment-related degree program can turn to the University of Georgia. The university offers many sustainability-related degrees across its 18 colleges, including Ecology, Forestry, and Fisheries and Wildlife. As one of the best green colleges, UGA offers green graduate programs and both paid and unpaid internship opportunities. Students living on campus can also become Residence Hall EcoReps and encourage responsible environmental practices in dorms and apartments. Students who wish to study the environment abroad can apply for funds through the Brittney Fox Endowment for Study Abroad in Sustainability.
Total Points: 239.7
Net Price: $12,862/yr
24. California State University, Chico
California State University, Chico combines a variety of student groups with its natural surroundings to create a unique green education experience. From growing organic lettuce to internships at Butte Creek Ecological Preserve, Chico State offers students many ways to get involved. For example, the Associated Students sponsor Adventure Outings, which provides student-led trips into the wilds of Northern California. And the university was also among the first in the nation to sign a long-range agreement to become "climate neutral" by 2030. In doing so, this affordable green college has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Total Points: 240.3
Net Price: $12,836/yr
23. Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge
Baton Rouge, LA
Louisiana State University offers more than a dozen majors related to the environment; hosts various green volunteer opportunities; and works each semester to educate students, faculty and staff on sustainable living. Students can donate their time in game-day recycling efforts, as well as organized clean-up events. The university overall seeks to recycle more waste, decrease energy usage, and use sustainable practices in building design, among other goals. The university's Recreation department also runs a sustainable garden, and LSU has installed electric-vehicle charging stations on campus. What's more, LSU has earned the "Tree Campus USA" designation by proactively planting trees. In fact, as one of the best green colleges, LSU has planted more than 250 new trees since 2013.
Total Points: 241.3
Net Price: $8,888/yr
22. Radford University
Radford University offers sustainability education across several majors, and even in curricula outside the environmental sciences. The state gave Radford two Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards at its Environment Virginia Symposium. Radford also hosts a sustainABILITY movie series, highlighting environment-related films such as "The Last Mountain," "American Meat," and "Carbon Nation." Campus clubs at this affordable green college include the environment, sociology, and chemistry clubs, as well as the Appalachian Events Committee. Students seeking active or outdoor pursuits can climb the rock wall on campus or take advantage of university-sponsored trips into the New River Valley.
Total Points: 242
Net Price: $12,295
21. University of Illinois-Chicago
Students interested in sustainability and how it applies to their daily lives at can investigate the University of Illinois-Chicago, one of the best green colleges in the Midwest. UIC allows students to become "Eco-Educators" who raise awareness of basic concepts such as recycling and how to minimize waste. Students can join various on-campus groups, such as the Engineering Design Team or the Terra Society. In addition, the UIC College of Cycling works to support urban cycling throughout the community as an alternative to cars and fossil fuels. And students who want to leave the urban setting behind and gain key outdoor skills can take advantage of sponsored Outdoor Trips to places such as Starved Rock State Park.
Total Points: 242.1
Net Price: $11,645/yr
20. Unity College
Sustainability science is the cornerstone of academics at Unity College, not just an afterthought. Its unique location – offering recreation in the ocean or the snowy mountains – allows for key study and original research on climate change. Unity was also the first college in the nation to divest itself from fossil fuels. Truly one of the nation's best green colleges, Unity offers small class sizes — with a 10:1 student-faculty ratio — and is also one of the most affordable choices for eco-conscious students. Tuition rates are some 20% below the national average. Unity offers 16 environmentally focused majors, including Sustainable Agriculture, Conservation Law Enforcement, and Captive Wildlife Care and Education.
Total Points: 242.8
Net Price: $24,000
19. Southern Illinois University-Carbondale
From its organic gardening initiative to its various volunteer opportunities, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale actively engages students in a commitment to a greener future and stands as one of the best green colleges. SIU-Carbondale allows students from any major to add a minor in Environmental Studies. The university also earned a Silver rating in STARS, which is a self-reporting tool that allows colleges to track their environmental progress. Students can also take advantage of the organized Outdoor Pursuits trips to locales such as Wichita Wildlife Mountain Refuge and Carlsbad Caverns. They can also volunteer at the Bird House Factory, downtown clean-up days, and Second Nature Wildlife Rehabilitation, among others.
Total Points: 244.7
Net Price: $14,347/yr
18. University of Vermont
The University of Vermont offers 14 green majors for students who seek an education related to the environment. Highlighting its progress on the environment, the university also earned a Gold rating from STARS, making this one of the best green colleges for the money. For students who want to commune with the great outdoors, the Outing Club provides wilderness trips in all seasons, teaches technical skills, and rents out backcountry travel equipment. The Vermont Student Environmental Program, a group of concerned students, also seeks to raise awareness of misuse and environmental abuses occurring on campuses throughout the state.
Total Points: 245.2
Net Price: $15,793/yr
17. State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry
SUNY's Green Campus Initiative invites all students to work together on sustainability efforts like composting, biking to campus, celebrating Earth Week, swapping clothing in the eco-friendly Free Store, and participating in exciting green energy projects around campus like turning waste vegetable oil into biofuel. Those who wish to turn their passion for conservation into a career can major in Environmental Science or earn a Certificate of Advanced Study in Sustainable Enterprise. Students may also get involved on-campus by joining the ESF Eco-Reps program, which holds campaigns and events to raise awareness of environmental issues and teach their peers about sustainable living practices.
Total Points: 245.6
Net Price: $17,491/yr
16. New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, NM
Those searching for a budget-friendly environmentally conscious education can look to the most affordable green college on our list, New Mexico State University. Sustainability-focused classes concentrate on technology, ecology, economics and sustainable development, and biological and environmental systems. The campus houses eight green LEED-certified buildings that achieve high performance on water savings, energy efficiency, and materials selection. NMSU's Office of Sustainability is passionate about using green efforts to promote social justice, believing that green initiatives should consider how we care for our fellow citizens. The Environmental Science Student Organization gives students the opportunity to connect with like-minded classmates and give back to the community through volunteer work and spreading environmental awareness.
Total Points: 247.8
Net Price: $6,484/yr
15. University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point
Stevens Point, WI
UWSP is nationally recognized for its sustainability efforts, having earned a STARS Gold rating and being nominated three years running to the Princeton Review Green College Honor Roll. The university is now taking steps toward becoming a zero-waste campus through recycling, efficiency, and conservation efforts. In addition to several green majors and sustainability research opportunities, interested students may take courses in sustainable energy, lifecycle assessment, the papermaking process, and bioplastics. The CPS CafÃ©, which uses only green-sustainable practices, offers students the chance to unwind and enjoy tasty organic and locally grown food and fair trade coffee.
Total Points: 248.4
Net Price: $11,820/yr
14. West Virginia University
Students who are passionate about the environment can look to West Virginia University for a well-rounded and affordable green college education. On-campus organizations like the Society for Conservation Biology and the Society for Environmental Professionals grant students opportunities to educate others by encouraging conservation efforts and promoting ethical environmental practices. WVU students are environmental stewards in the community, where people often find them repopulating red spruce trees in Canaan Valley or conducting energy audits at the WVU Rec Center. Travel opportunities abound, from day-trips to enjoy the natural beauty of the state to snowboarding, white water rafting, and fly fishing events, to international adventures in Fiji, New Zealand, and Patagonia.
Total Points: 250
Net Price: $9,826/yr
13. George Mason University
George Mason University encourages its students to go green by offering tuition-related support, research funding, service-learning opportunities, and internships to Sustainability Studies students. With nine undergraduate degrees and over 70 courses focused on sustainability, GMU covers diverse student interests. Professors and students work together in 10 green research facilities on projects dedicated to energy efficiency, water and ecosystem preservation, and sustainable infrastructure, to name a few. The Sustainable Living Learning Community on campus brings together students from all majors and walks of life to live together and support one another in green living efforts and practices.
Total Points: 254
Net Price: $16,155/yr
12. University of Maryland – College Park
College Park, MD
Adventure lovers and environmental stewards will enjoy all the exciting outdoor activities available to students through the Maryland Adventure Program at one of the best green colleges in the nation. University of Maryland students can take a well-earned break from studying for their degree in one of many green majors like Environmental Science, Agriculture and Resource Economics, and Landscape Architecture by winter backpacking the Pinnacle or exploring the underground at Whitings Neck Cave. In addition to studying hard and playing hard, student organizations like the LEAF Team give those passionate about sustainability a voice in the campus community to discuss important environmental issues and to educate others about how to live green.
Total Points: 255
Net Price: $14,941/yr
11. Northern Arizona University
This affordable green college is taking great strides toward fulfilling its pledge to become a carbon neutral school by 2020. The Sustainable Action Plan takes a comprehensive approach toward environmental stewardship with efforts in the areas of Academics and Research, Water, Transportation, Waste Minimization, and Energy and Climate, to name a few. Campus-wide programs like composting, No Impact Jack, and the Sustainable Landscape Project encourage the entire campus community to contribute. A number of sustainability-related majors and undergraduate and graduate research and internship opportunities are available. Students also serve the community-at-large through outreach programs like Foodlink and Friends of Verde River Greenway.
Total Points: 255.3
Net Price: $14,398/yr
10. University of Arizona
The University of Arizona is committed to sustainability education, as demonstrated by its dozens of green majors in areas like Sustainable Built Environments, Environmental and Water Resource Economics, and Biosystems Engineering. The Climate Action Plan strives to decrease the university's carbon footprint by reducing energy use while developing more sustainable sources of energy and promoting the use of alternative forms of transportation, recycling, and the purchase of sustainable goods. There are many ways for students who are passionate about the environment to get involved on campus, from joining the Solar Cats or Global Water Brigades to taking part in the Biosphere 2 Research Experience.
Total Points: 255.7
Net Price: $14,070/yr
9. Florida State University
Florida State University earned its spot on the best green colleges list for its commitment toward becoming a completely sustainable campus. Some of these efforts include teaching students how to green their rooms, encouraging the use of alternative transportation, and offering a Global Pathways Certificate – Environmental Sustainability theme. Students may join organizations like Engineers Without Borders, which currently is developing a humanitarian program in the Republic of Panama, or the Environmental Service Program, which encourages creating sustainable energy solutions in the community. FSU students also volunteer their time off-campus on a number of green initiatives like the Damayan Garden Project and the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign.
Total Points: 256.1
Net Price: $15,511/yr
8. University of California – Irvine
UC Irvine earned a Gold STARS ranking for its commitment to environmentally conscious education. The Sustainability Curriculum Project is dedicated to increasing climate-neutral learning opportunities for students and currently offers 78 sustainability-focused courses, undergraduate and graduate degrees, and even a minor in Global Sustainability. Outside of class, students may take full advantage of the Global Sustainability Resource Center, which connects them to green campus events, organizations like Climatepedia and the Green Initiative Fund, and even internship opportunities. Explorers can spend their breaks on the rural farm village of Mastatal in Costa Rica, where they will learn tropical ecology, reforestation, and sustainable chocolate farming.
Total Points: 260.1
Net Price: $11,569/yr
7. University of Washington
This affordable green college offers a plethora of environmental courses, volunteer opportunities, and research centers, all for less than $10,000 in yearly tuition. Green efforts are ongoing at the University of Washington, which holds a variety of sustainability events on campus every week. In addition, the school approved six new projects just this year, including the Carbon Challenge: Footprint Reduction competition, the UWT Husky Lines, a bus service encouraging more students to use public transportation, and a research study on how to reduce non-recoverable waste at medical facilities. Inside the classroom, students may choose from 25 sustainability-related majors like Aquatic and Fishery Science, Bioresource Science and Engineering, and Environmental Health.
Total Points: 263.8
Net Price: $9,400/yr
6. Stanford University
Stanford University encourages students of all majors to go Cardinal Green with organizations like the Environmental Law Society, Engineers for a Sustainable World, and the Environmentally Sustainable Business Club. When Stanford students need a break from working on environmentally conscious projects like the Solar Wind and Energy Project and the Solar Car Project, they can spend their downtime shopping in the Green Store, which sells recyclable food serviceware; tuning into the Green Grid Radio, which educates the public about complex sustainability and energy issues; or even taking a class in Whitewater Rafting, Kayaking, or Standup Paddleboarding.
Total Points: 269.2
Net Price: $19,109/yr
5. Georgia Institute of Technology
Environmentally conscious students at the Georgia Institute of Technology can become part of the "Green Buzz" by cooking local foods, improving the local bicycle infrastructure, and hosting events for the Energy Club. In addition to the many available student organizations, the university hosts green campus events, such as the Clean Energy Speaker Series, Earth Day, and Tech Beautification Day. Traversing campus is easy with BikeGT, carpooling, and car sharing options. The schools offers "green" courses in Energy Policy, Environmental Ethics, and Sustainable Systems, also giving students access to 23 research centers that support major sustainability. This affordable green college stays beautiful with green cleaning, the GameDay Recycling Program, and drought-tolerant vegetation.
Total Points: 281
Net Price: $11,864/yr
4. Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO
This Gold STARS ranked university has been a pioneer in alternative energy solutions since the 1960s. Colorado State University boasts many environmental firsts, including creating the world's first engineered solar-powered building and offering green power to its students. Winner of the Arbor Day Foundation's Favorite Tree Campus USA contest, the university offers unique majors like the Master of Greenhouse Gas Management and Accounting, Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism, and Rangeland Ecosystem Science. The Outdoor Program offers more than fifty green trips and events annually. Students also can get involved by interning as a Bike Patrol Park Ranger or doing community service on a 12 Day Educational Adventure Program in Costa Rica.
Total Points: 281.4
Net Price: $13,487/yr
3. University of California – Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA
UC Santa Barbara earns high rankings for sustainable student involvement, with more than fifty clubs and organizations dedicated to environmentalism. Among the more unique clubs are Bee Conscious, dedicated to the preservation of bees, and the Department of Public Worms, dedicated to composting. UCSB Adventure Programs encourages students, educators, and staff alike to enjoy the beauty of Santa Barbara while kayaking, canoeing, and backpacking. The university boasts many sustainability successes in the past year, including the installation of nearly 3,000 solar panels, reduction of natural gas usage by 15%, and irrigation of nearly the entire campus with recycled water.
Total Points: 286.3
Net Price: $13,991/yr
2. Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN
This affordable green college earned an impressive Silver STARS ranking for sustainability with more than a dozen green research centers, majors, and volunteer opportunities. Students may choose from many environmental programs, including Soil and Hydrologic Sciences, Biological Engineering, and Natural Resources. The Purdue Arboretum has many outdoor learning spaces, including a 24-acre Horticultural Park, a garden with over 200 species of perennial flowers, and a natural amphitheater. Environmentally conscious Purdue students volunteer their time in the Electric Vehicle Club, the Boiler Green Initiative, and Engineers for a Sustainable World. The university recently received a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for its biofuel research project.
Total Points: 296.5
Net Price: $13,541/yr
1. University of California – San Diego
San Diego, CA
UC San Diego tops our list of the best green colleges in the country because of its all-around commitment to sustainability, demonstrated in its 12 green majors, three research centers, numerous volunteer opportunities, and a multitude of environmentally-friendly recreational activities. Student organizations cover a wide range of eco-friendly interests, including The Sustainable Food Project, The Renewable Energy Society, and Global Water Brigades. Hard-working UCSD students have opportunities year-round to refresh and recharge with Outback Adventures trips kayaking in Mission Bay or rock-climbing at Joshua Tree National Park. Among the many accolades of this affordable green college are a "Gold Rating" for Sustainability and a "Greenest College in the U.S. and Canada" distinction from Princeton Review.
Total Points: 301.4
Net Price: $14,329/yr
About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career when she started working as a freelance writer and researcher in 2011. Her freelance business soon took off and she now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Despite the time it takes to run a business she still does much of the writing herself, and her work has included a variety of content related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and graduates' careers. Her interests actually span far beyond writing, and she is currently studying to be a physicist! Check out her Google+ Profile.