By Katie O'Reilly
In the 12 years since Sierra began highlighting the best environmental practices of colleges and universities, the competition to be the ecofriendliest in all of academia has gotten fierce. This year, we received a record 269 responses from qualified institutions, which now include Canadian schools and community colleges. Our annual Cool Schools Rankings assess colleges' performance in everything from what they teach to how they obtain their electricity to their sources of cafeteria food and how they manage their water. Please join Sierra in congratulating the very green—and diverse—schools that are mastering the art and science of campus sustainability.
20. Cornell University — Score 74.47 | Ithaca, New York
ANABEL'S GROCERY IS A STUDENT-RUN INITIATIVE DESIGNED TO COMBAT FOOD INSECURITY ON THE CORNELL CAMPUS, PROVIDING LOW-COST GROCERIES TO STUDENTS.CORNELL UNIVERSITY
Last year, Cornell launched Anabel's Grocery, a student-run food supply providing low-cost access to local, organic, and culturally inclusive foods. It also broke ground on the Sustainable Landscapes Trail, designed to highlight 14 campus spots that showcase Cornell's commitment to natural lands management (think rainwater capture stations, pollinator plants, and permaculture plots). Since 2008, this Ivy has reduced campus emissions by 36 percent and cooling energy by 86 percent, largely through proprietary innovations such as Lake Source Cooling—running a pump from one of upstate New York's nearby deep lakes to pipe cold water through campus. The Touchdowns are now experimenting with Earth Source Heat, a new system that involves drilling into the earth's upper crust and piping thermal heat through the often-chilly campus.
19. Loyola Marymount University — Score 74.74 | Los Angeles, California
LOYOLA'S OFFICE OF SUSTAINABILITY AND STUDENTS DESIGNED AND BUILT A SOLAR GOLF CART. LOYOLA MARYMOUNT UNIVERSITY
Not only has LMU operated a self-funded recycling plant since 1990, but it also won Los Angeles's inaugural "RecycLA" platinum award this year, thus becoming a model for the rest of the city. LMU was also the first university to sign onto the Lonely Whale Foundation's pledge to purge plastic straws. "The Cycling Lion," a shipping container turned bicycle hub, offers a recycled bike shop and bike-share program. The Lions are on track to divert all food waste by the end of 2019, thanks to a campus-wide food waste disposal and awareness program and a robust composting program. Students also work within a nearby underserved neighborhood to boost awareness of composting, provide food waste options, and develop a community garden.
18. University of Dayton — Score 74.93 | Dayton, Ohio
UD'S FIRST GREEN ROOF ON THE KENNEDY UNION PATIO, THE CULMINATION OF YEARS OF WORK BY STUDENTS, FACULTY, AND STAFF IN MANY AREAS ACROSS CAMPUS.BRUCE DAMONTE
The first Catholic university in the nation to divest from fossil fuel companies also has an Energy Team composed of students who work with campus facilities departments to perform energy and lighting audits. The team proposes and implements conservation projects, the funding for which often comes from UD's green revolving fund, which pays for itself through energy and other environmental savings. UD boasts low-flow showerheads and 1.3-and-counting megawatts of solar. Students living in university-owned campus houses receive feedback on their energy usage (their "energy GPAs"). Dayton Flyers can study environmental biology, pursue master's degrees in renewable and clean energy, and work the earth at nearby Lincoln Hill Garden, an urban farm and community green space the school established with community partners
17. Lewis & Clark College — Score 75.05 | Portland, Oregon
LEWIS & CLARK STUDENTS PARTICIPATE IN NUMEROUS MODES OF ACTIVE TRANSIT, INCLUDING BIKING, WALKING, TAKING THE BUS, AND CARPOOLING. LEWIS & CLARK COLLEGE
In the past year, Lewis & Clark has committed to selling off its fossil fuel investments, passed a policy to phase out all single-use plastics, and launched a "Hot Topics" series through which speakers come to campus to discuss issues such as environmental justice, biodiversity, and socially responsible investing. The school's Farm to Fork Initiative mandates that campus dining spend 20 percent of its funding on food sourced from small, local farms and producers, and the campus, which runs into two watersheds, recently re-upped its Salmon Safe designation. Lewis & Clark students can study ecopsychology and natural resources law, and take classes in the political economy of food. When they're not in class, many are involved with extracurricular pursuits including the beekeeping club, bike co-op, and garden collective.
16. University of Oregon — Score 75.42 | Eugene, Oregon
ALLAN PRICE SCIENCE COMMONS IS ONE OF THE SCHOOL'S NEWEST LEED GOLD-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS.UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
A year and a half ago, student activists pressured the University of Oregon to renew its climate action plan. As a result, the school has already reinsulated 16 miles' worth of campus steam and condensate pipes, thus reducing at least 54 metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The Ducks' new-and-improved climate plan is also funding environmental economists' research into internal carbon taxes that U of O, and perhaps eventually other institutions, could implement. The university is currently installing a shipping container outfitted with LED lights wherein students can experiment with the latest in indoor agriculture and recently received a grant to integrate sustainability courses with the work of area municipalities and nonprofits—meaning students will be working to solve real-world energy and transportation issues. Through "rEV Up Eugene," the University of Oregon hosts free community workshops about electric vehicles.
15. Oregon State University — Score 75.82 | Corvallis, Oregon
OSU STAFF MOVE MATERIALS DURING THE MOVE OUT DONATION DRIVE, WHICH IN 2018 COLLECTED OVER 32,300 POUNDS OF REUSABLE MATERIAL.OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
Oregon State's trustees are in the process of developing a plan to divest a portion of its funding from fossil fuels and to diversify its portfolio of carbon-free funds. Meanwhile, students are enrolling in programs such as "humanitarian engineering," "sustainable agroforestry," and "sustainable cemeteries management." The consumption-wary Beavers have a textbook loan program in place as well as an "OSUsed" store and cap-and-gown return program. OSU dorms employ Eco-Reps, who educate residents on green lifestyle practices, and the school works with local food distributors, caterers, and restaurants to divert food waste to its campus food pantry.
14. Chatham University — Score: 76.09 | Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
EDEN HALL CAMPUS.CHATHAM UNIVERSITY
No matter their major, every undergrad at Chatham must take sustainability courses, and most undergrads, grad students, and MBAs pursue degrees in sustainability or food studies. This year, Chatham is launching a new program to help prepare nursing students and other future health professionals for climate-change-induced public health threats. Thanks to its solar thermal greenhouse and "work-and-pick" garden, Chatham produces enough food to help supply its dining hall. Many students recently banded together to present a divestment proposal. Good news: Chatham's Board of Trustees is likely to approve it by October.
13. Santa Clara University — Score 76.13 | Santa Clara, California
SCU'S CENTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY HOSTS A "WASTE CHARACTERIZATION" ALMOST EVERY QUARTER FOR STAFF, FACULTY, AND STUDENTS. SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY
Nine out of 10 students attending the "Jesuit University in Silicon Valley" engage in community-based learning for course credit. A food justice outreach program, for instance, works within marginalized neighborhoods to bolster community gardens and helps elementary students to develop urban gardens. Thanks to a deal wherein faculty can receive stipends to integrate eco- and/or social justice-oriented curricula into their syllabi, 93 percent of Santa Clara departments offer sustainability courses. The Broncos are currently working to reduce their food waste by 20 percent by 2025 and to increase the use of the school garden's on-site composting center.
12. American University — Score 76.53 | Washington, DC
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY EMPHASIZES THE IMPORTANCE OF ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION DURING ITS ANNUAL TRANSPORTATION FAIR. HERE, A STUDENT SUSTAINABILITY EDUCATOR DEMONSTRATES HOW TO PUT A BIKE ON THE FRONT OF A BUS. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
American University achieved carbon neutrality last spring (two years ahead of schedule) with help from its seven on-campus solar arrays, several off-site arrays, and a unique portfolio of carbon credit purchases. At home in DC, the Eagles plant trees to offset commuting emissions; at the school's study-abroad hub in Kenya, AU provides communities with efficient cookstoves to help offset students' air travel. Through AU's film program, many students create and showcase environmental documentaries. The school recently acquired a Virginia farm in hopes of offering students opportunities to study sustainable agriculture while developing farm-to-table cafeteria menus.
11. Sterling College — Score 76.86 | Craftsbury Common, Vermont
STERLING COLLEGE STUDENTS PREP SEED POTATOES FOR PLANTING WHILE A CLASS PREPARES A HUGELKULTURE BED, A PERMACULTURE TECHNIQUE FOR MAKING A RAISED BED (BACKGROUND). STERLING COLLEGE
At Sterling, where most students labor on farms and forestlands in exchange for tuition (and produce upwards of 30 percent of food served on campus), the focus is on how best to steward working landscapes. So it's fitting that students are putting Wendell Berry's writing to work through a new partnership with the Berry Center, located in the author-activist's native Henry County, Kentucky. Each semester, students have opportunities to go south and help cultivate a different landscape. Meanwhile, Sterling faculty is developing curricula for Kentuckians seeking to implement holistic and sustainable farm plans. Back in Vermont, students are learning the craft of woodworking using ecologically harvested timber at Sterling's new Rural Arts Center.
10. Middlebury College — Score 76.99 | Middlebury, Vermont
THE KNOLL, MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE'S GARDEN, IS HOME TO VEGETABLE AND FLOWER PRODUCTION, AN OUTDOOR OVEN, RESEARCH, MINDFULNESS TRAINING, AND MORE. MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE
After reaching its carbon neutrality goal in December 2016, the overachievers of Middlebury were hungry for more. In January, the Panthers broke ground on a Sustainability Solutions Lab designed to source students' most innovative ideas—for ways the school could source 100 percent renewable power by 2028, for instance—and to teach them how to seek support, calculate risks, and navigate the administrative challenges of effecting change. This year, Middlebury conducted an ecological assessment of its 6,000+ acres of forestland to account for flora and fauna as well as the lands' cultural/anthropological value and recreational and aesthetic bona fides.
9. California State University, Chico — Score 78.00 | Chico, California
ANGELICA RODRIGUEZ COLLECTS WATER SAMPLES FOR HER CHICO STEM CONNECTIONS COLLABORATIVE SUMMER RESEARCH PROJECT. JASON HALLEY
One of 12 founding signatories of 2007's American Colleges & Universities Climate Commitment, Chico State has since reduced its emissions by more than a third, constructed seven (and counting) LEED-certified buildings, and initiated an Eco Resident Certification for dorm dwellers who live lightly. Through 14 courses, Chico State's Resilient Cities Initiative has involved students in assessing the community's transportation infrastructure, urban tree cover, and luminescence, with the goal of making recommendations—such as solar roadways and expanded bike lanes—to government planners. For the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative, students and faculty partner with farmers in California's Sacramento Valley to research tilling practices, methane capture and other means of sequestering carbon.
8. Seattle University — Score 78.410 | Seattle, Washington
SEATTLE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS AND STAFF SORT ONE DAY'S WORTH OF TRASH AT THE ANNUAL GARBOLOGY EVENT. SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Seattle U students put the fossil fuel divestment challenge to their administration six years ago and never piped down. As a result, the trustees are on track to approve divestment this fall. The very edible campus has been pesticide-free since 1979, and its 50-acre urban wildlife sanctuary is designed to attract birds with lush, native flora. Every other year, the Redhawks host an environmental justice summit, which this year will ignite student and faculty activism around restoring the nearby Duwamish River, Washington's most industrialized waterway. Seattle U is working to become carbon negative by 2020.
7. University of Massachusetts, Amherst — Score 79.076 | Amherst, Massachusetts
NEARLY 45 TONS OF PRODUCE ARE GROWN ANNUALLY ON THE STUDENT FARM. UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, AMHERST
The home of New England's largest campus solar installation is synthesizing its 400-plus environment-related courses into a new School of Earth and Sustainability, which will make eco-oriented resources, opportunities, and faculty more accessible while promoting collaboration across departments. All students and faculty can apply for support from the Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund. The fund helps underwrite an annual New2You back-to-school sale of recycled dorm wares, a student-run sustainable vineyard, and an organic CSA program.
6. Dickinson College — Score 80.676 | Carlisle, Pennsylvania
STUDENTS INVOLVED IN THE HIVE BUILD AND IMPROVE NATIVE BEE HABITATS ON AND OFF CAMPUS. DICKINSON COLLEGE
This past year, Dickinson not only broke ground on a new LEED Platinum–certified dorm but also launched a Residential Life Sustainability Program. Students attend sessions on sustainable cooking and shopping, water and energy conservation, and transportation. Dickinson also launched a beekeeping cooperative, modeled after its seven-year-old campus bike co-op, that has students tending pollinator gardens and crafting balms, soaps, and candles that they gift to the larger community. Thanks to a three-megawatt solar array that went online in August, Dickinson is on track to meet its 2020 carbon-neutrality goal.
5. Arizona State University — Score 81.043 | Tempe, Arizona
ASU AND LOCAL UTILITY VOLUNTEERS PLANT TREES IN PHOENIX FOR CARBON OFFSETS.ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY
Even with a record 100,000-plus students enrolling this fall, ASU keeps getting cooler by the year. There are incentives for athletic teams to earn Sustainable Sports Certifications and for research units to become official Green Labs. ASU just approved a carbon-neutral policy for new buildings as well as a novel Carbon Project fund that will be supported by contributions to offset faculty and student air travel. The Carbon Project will pay for programs such as planting trees in the low-income heat islands of sprawling Phoenix, planting an on-campus "carbon sink" forest, and electrifying the university's car fleet.
4. Colorado State University — Score 81.22 | Fort Collins, Colorado
CSU WAS DESIGNATED A PLATINUM-LEVEL BICYCLE FRIENDLY UNIVERSITY BY THE LEAGUE OF AMERICAN BICYCLISTS. COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY
Colorado State offers more than 800 sustainability-related courses. This year, the Rams got a new football stadium, and students rallied to assemble a zero-waste team of volunteers tasked with schooling sports fans on what's recyclable, compostable, and landfill bound. Thanks to students' activism, the university also adopted a fair-trade-preferable purchasing policy: Unlike most state universities, which are required to take the lowest bid, CSU now will weigh environmental and labor factors in all buying decisions.
3. University of Connecticut — Score 81.765 | Storrs, Connecticut
THE HUSKY MASCOT DECKED OUT FOR WOMEN'S BASKETBALL GREEN GAME DAY. UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
The only university to attain Green Restaurant Certification for all eight of its dining halls, UConn offers food that is 47 percent organic or locally sourced, and all food waste gets hauled to an anaerobic digester. It's part of the Huskies' plan to become carbon neutral by 2050 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, from a 2007 baseline, by 2020. But UConn's greenness isn't merely top-down. The largest extracurricular club is the Eco Huskies: students who sort trash at games, perform green audits on campus, and operate a recycling patrol and a clothing swap.
2. University of New Hampshire — Score 84.3029 | Durham, New Hampshire
UNH STUDENTS REMOVE INVASIVE BUCKTHORN ON CAMPUS.UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
The home of the nation's oldest endowed sustainability office embeds ecology into nearly all of its academic offerings. UNH has the very first eco-gastronomy major as well as a dual major that allows students to study sustainability through the context of, say, economics or Spanish. The Wildcats, who made an impressive 18-spot leap in our rankings this year, pipe methane from a landfill to campus, thus supplying 85 percent of campus energy needs. Considering UNH's on-campus Amtrak stop, organic dairy farm, and food-waste-reduction system through which water is extracted from dining hall leftovers to be recycled before the food waste gets composted, eco-stewardship is clearly integral to the school's ethos.
1. (TIE) University of California, Irvine — Score: 714.66 | Irvine, California
KATHERINE MACKEY (TOP), CLARE BOOTHE LUCE ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE, CONSULTS WITH DOCTORAL RESEARCHER RAISHA LOVINDEER. STEVE ZYLIUS / UCI
In its ninth year among Sierra's 10 coolest colleges, UCI leapt seven spots—thanks in part to net-zero-emission housing construction and a pioneering power-to-gas hydrogen-pipeline injection project in which solar power generated on campus is converted into hydrogen and inserted into the Anteaters' gas supply, creating a partially decarbonizing effect. Last year, undergrads in the College of Sustainability compiled a climate-friendly cookbook, and other students developed a program to encourage broader bicycle use.
1. (TIE) Green Mountain College — Score: 745.80 | Poultney, Vermont
GREEN MOUNTAIN COLLEGE STUDENTS WORKING ON RIVERINE FLOODPLAIN FOREST RESTORATION PLANT AN AMERICAN ELM ALONG VERMONT'S POULTNEY RIVER. GREEN MOUNTAIN COLLEGE
The second college in the nation to reach carbon neutrality is aggressively working toward a new goal of powering its campus solely via renewable energy by 2020—with help from a student-initiated biomass facility and the purchase of carbon offsets from a landfill-gas-capture project. GMC has also tweaked its eco-centric core curriculum to better account for economic and environmental justice issues. New practicums have students examining the nexus of hunger, food, and homelessness in New York City and decorating the campus with a series of "What Is Social Sustainability?" posters.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
Sierra received complete surveys from a record-breaking 227 schools—in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and for the first time ever, Canada.
Each of the schools ranked in the top 20 have displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues, and encouraging environmental responsibility. Using a customized scoring system, Sierra's researchers ranked the universities based on their commitment to upholding high environmental standards.
"We continue to be inspired by the creative and innovative ways colleges and universities across the country are working to tackle the climate crisis and move toward a sustainable future," said Jason Mark, Sierra magazine's editor in chief. "From powering campuses with clean energy to educating students on new methods of sustainability, it is this leadership that is driving positive change and helping to shape a future that is clean, just and equitable for all."
Sierra magazine's top 20 schools of 2017 are:
- College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, ME)
- Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT)
- Sterling College (Craftsbury Common, VT)
- State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, NY)
- Lewis & Clark College (Portland, OR)
- Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, CA)
- Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)
- University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA)
- Colby College (Waterville, ME)
- University of San Diego (San Diego, CA)
- Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)
- Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT)
- Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)
- Chatham University (Pittsburgh, PA)
- Colgate University (Hamilton, NY)
- Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, IL)
- University of the Pacific (Stockton, CA)
- George Washington University (Washington, DC)
- Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH)
- Oregon State University (Corvallis, OR)
This is the second consecutive year College of the Atlantic has ranked number one, thanks in large part to its commitment to work toward a 100 percent sustainable energy future. In addition, three of this year's top 20 schools are in cities that have committed to 100 percent clean energy with the Sierra Club's Ready For 100 campaign, and presidents from 14 of the top 20 schools signed the We Are Still In pledge to show their commitment to the Paris agreement.
Many of this year's top 20 colleges and universities were top-ranking in individual categories, including: Green Mountain College for green curriculum; the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry for green innovation; Loyola Marymount University for sustainable water usage; and Colby College for renewable energy. In addition, a number of states saw high numbers of universities featured on this year's list, including California with 27 schools, New York with 21 schools, Pennsylvania with 16 schools, Massachusetts with 12 schools, and Ohio, Texas and North Carolina each with 10 schools.
"Year after year, we continue to see young people leading the fight against the climate crisis and toward a 100 percent sustainable future. That's why students across the U.S. and in Puerto Rico are pushing their high schools and colleges to not only divest from fossil fuels but to commit to 100 percent localized clean energy," said Karissa Gerhke, national director of the Sierra Student Coalition. "The Sierra Student Coalition applauds these leaders and their schools for their innovation and leadership, and we look forward to working with them as they continue to do this important work."
The full ranking of 227 colleges and universities, including each school's completed questionnaire, is online at www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Liz Dwyer
What's served up in college cafeterias became a hot topic this summer thanks to an episode of writer Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Revisionist History. In July, Gladwell argued that some schools are spending big bucks putting fancy food on the menu—think lobster bakes and venison—instead of offering financial aid to low-income students. But another trend in campus dining halls that Gladwell might want to take a look at in a future episode is one that could hold down college food costs: vegan meal options.
Meat- and dairy-free menu items have become one of the hottest things on college cafeteria menus.Colorado Mountain College
According to a survey released Tuesday by peta2, the youth division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), meat- and dairy-free menu items have become one of the hottest things on college cafeteria menus.
The organization surveyed nearly 1,500 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. and found that 62 percent of schools serve vegan menu items on a daily basis, up from 28 percent in 2014. The survey also found that about 9 percent of schools—private institutions like American University in Washington, DC and public state schools like the University of California, San Diego—have entirely vegan dining stations.
The vegan revolution isn't just happening on the coasts. The 36,000-student University of North Texas has had a 300-seat all-vegan dining facility since 2011. After the school installed the vegan dining hall, "meal-plan sales rose by 20 percent while operating costs remained comparable," according to peta2.
Animal products "are among the most expensive items when it comes to wholesale food costs because of the massive amount of water and grains required in order to produce them," Ben Williamson, senior international media director for PETA, wrote in an email to TakePart.
A study published in the September 2015 edition of the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that people who go vegetarian spend an average of $750 less on groceries than folks who follow federal dietary recommendations. Colleges that replace meat and dairy menu items with plant-based offerings are likely seeing similar per-student savings.
A desire to save money isn't the only reason schools are moving to meat-free meals.
"Research shows that millennials are three times more likely to be vegetarian than Gen Xers and 12 times more likely than baby boomers, because eating vegan food is directly tied to helping combat world hunger, cruelty to animals, environmental degradation and other issues that millennials consider to be crucial," Williamson wrote.
Many "students have made it clear they understand the health benefits of vegan food, along with its lower impact on the environment," Brian McCarthy, a chef at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.
College student drops out after school denies request to opt out of 'unhealthy' meal plan via @EcoWatch https://t.co/8XWxl3D6P4— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1471987870.0
The environmental implications of these students ditching meat are significant: A 2014 Oxford University study found that the average meat eater has an environmental footprint of 15.82 pounds of CO2 per day, whereas a vegan has a footprint of 6.4 pounds of CO2.
"Vegan food has now reached the mainstream in even the most rural parts of the country, which is a testament to the rapid decline of the meat, dairy and egg industries," Williamson wrote. "Students at the University of Montana, for example, can always get a hearty meal at the vegan dining station on campus, and Oklahoma City University offers a dining station that's both vegan and raw, despite being in the heart of the 'beef belt.' "
Per-capita meat consumption in the U.S. jumped 5 percent in 2015, the biggest increase since the 1970s, but Williamson believes college students will stick with a vegan lifestyle after graduation—a shift made easier by food companies and restaurants.
"While college campuses are often the incubators of emerging trends, the progress doesn't end there: After students graduate, they'll be entering a world where major brands such as Chipotle, Ben & Jerry's and even White Castle now advertise vegan options front and center," he wrote.
As for those schools that still believe a vegan option is a sad-looking salad bar, peta2 has a "Veganize Your Dining Hall" campaign pack, which gives students resources for lobbying their schools to adopt more robust vegan-friendly menus.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.