Hip To Be Green

Pretty soon, Moneywatch won’t be the only place ranking college rankings—such is the speed with which specialized college guides are proliferating. Yesterday, Matthew Wheeland of GreenBiz.com reported that in the past week two competing lists have presented the latest takes on America’s “greenest” colleges and universities.

The College Sustainability Report Card (CSRC), now in its fourth year, surveyed 300 higher-ed institutions to grade their approaches to environmental sustainability in nine categories, including administration involvement, green buildings, and endowment transparency.

America’s Greenest Campus (AGC), in contrast, is less of a true college guide than a contest. It attempted to gauge environmental awareness by challenging students to register online for a competition that measured how much they could reduce their energy use.

Wheeland draws attention to the fact that the CSRC and AGC lists have little overlap, and he theorizes that while the administrations of the CSRC schools do the best job of promoting sustainability from the top down, these schools don”t actually have the most grassroots climate activism, which is more accurately measured by the AGC competition.

But Wheeland seems to miss the mark. America’s Greenest Campus can hardly be said to offer an objective view of student activism, since the contest—which measured small, self-selecting samples of college students—caught on at some campuses while fizzling at others. (The University of Maryland – College Park led the pack with 2,257 participants, while the University of Southern California, number 10 on the leaderboard, had only 209.) Sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, AGC actually seems like more of a PR campaign than a true rankings system.

Instead, the main takeaway seems to be that someone is touting a new green rankings system just about every week. From PETA’s list of the “most vegetarian-friendly colleges” to Kaplan’s 2009 college guide, the first to feature a ranking of environmentally responsible schools, surveys across the nation are declaring that it’s hip to be green.

Daniel Fromson

Daniel Fromson is an editorial intern at the Washington Monthly. He previously interned at Harper's Magazine, and he has written for Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.