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Green, Greener, Greenest: Comments on Carleton’s Place in “Green College” Rankings

October 14, 2008 at 11:47 am
By Katie Blanchard

While numeric classifications tend not to shape members of the Carleton community, rankings of all sorts determine the way that others view our college. Evaluations of campus sustainability efforts form the latest lists. So I’ll cut to the chase—does Carleton measure up? We have been placed on some and absent on others, and while the value of magazine blurbs and ever-changing ranking remains dubious, I offer the following observations and comments about Carleton’s place among the Green:

The Sustainable Endowments Report Card this year awarded Carleton with an A-, highlighting our compost program, locally-sourced food, the Sustainability Assistants program and aspects of our commitment to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Notable points from other similarly ranked institutions include greater access to public transportation, more sources of alternative/sustainable energy, employed sustainability coordinators and more detailed data about energy use, food sources and buying practices.

Carleton was not among Sierra magazine’s Top Ten “Cool Schools” this year. We can certainly learn a lot from other schools, but much of what we do at Carleton actually measures up to or beyond the noted institutions: we now compost a significant amount of our waste, much more of our food comes from local farmers, we have many active environmental organizations (SOPE, MPIRG, Food Truth, Farm Club, EAC, Sustainability Assistants), our new building projects will be LEED Certified Silver, if not Gold, and we have a Sustainability Revolving Fund to support projects that will decrease Carleton’s carbon footprint. On the other hand, Carleton could aspire to recycle 60% of its waste, like Middlebury, and commit to more renewable energy sources (which we are beginning to do!).

Carleton was recently recognized in Kaplan’s Guide to 25 Environmentally Responsible Colleges. The guided looked specifically at environmentally responsible campus projects; initiatives and courses offered; organizations and student groups on campus; and achievements noted in the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card 2008. Unsurprisingly, the Guide highlighted Carleton’s wind turbine, our single-stream recycling program, the Sustainability Assistants program, the ENTS program and the Sustainability Revolving Fund.

Even the Princeton Review now gives colleges a “Green” ranking. Carleton did not make it onto Princeton Review’s Green Rating Honor Roll, but again, we could learn from them but also do much that those schools were highlighted for: LEED certification, commitments to local and sustainable food sourcing and a Sustainability Revolving Fund. The Princeton Review’s ranking is the first I have come across that noted an actual campus landscape as a positive “green” feature. I am always amazed that Carleton’s astounding prairie restoration work in the Arb, and the fact that Arb Crew and Student Naturalists are student work positions, goes unnoticed by these rankings. The curricular connections to sustainability, renewable energy commitments and waste reclamation that were recognized in this ranking (recycling, grey water systems, etc.) are both things that Carleton could continue to improve upon.
In my opinion, a real ranking of Carleton should include the following things (positives and negatives):

-The Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) and their work towards implementing all aspects of the Presidents’ Climate Commitment
-The Sustainability Assistants positions
-The ENTS program, also the fact that it should be a major.
-The Pledge of Sustainable Conduct
-The Residential Life Roommate Contract: A part of the roommate contract that students sign at the beginning of the year includes points about energy use, waste, and other aspects of living in a sustainable way.
-We are working towards policies about buying practices to ensure sustainability in all kinds of purchases

Energy and Facilities:

-The wind turbine, certainly, but the fact that we should have much more alternative/renewable energy, including solar and more wind
-CFL distribution
-Our commitment to LEED Silver in the new dorms and hopefully in the Arts Union

-Bon Appetit’s commitment to local food. All protein in the Snack Bar is from local sources (beef, chicken, pork, eggs), our dairy products are local, and lots of produce is being sourced locally. We are working on compiling exact data.
-We have Fair Trade coffee from Peace Coffee in Minneapolis.
-There is no food or product in the dining halls that cannot be composted.
-The Snack Bar is working to greatly decrease wasteful packaging as well, and almost all packaging used currently is compostable.

-One-stream Recycling, but that we could recycle much more
-The Earth Tub
-We need exact data on how much is recycled, composted and thrown away
-The GoPrint system and its impact on reducing paper waste

-The hybrid vehicles
-The Van-Pool of staff and faculty members from Minneapolis
-The public transportation that is available, but the fact that many students still bring cars to campus and probably use them more than necessary
-The Green Bikes program, but the fact that it needs to be better established and better advertised

Grounds and Landscape:
This is huge. I think this is one of the most important aspects of any “Green” ranking, and it is rarely acknowledged.
-THE ARB. We have more than 800 acres of forest, wetland and prairie restorations. Arb Crew and Student Naturalists are student work positions. The Arb is used in curricular connections all the time.
-Native plantings. Carleton Grounds does not plant huge beds of annual flowers. In fact, I can’t even think of a single annual on our entire campus. Grounds plants native flowers, grasses and trees and is committed to efficient water use and grounds maintenance.
-The Student Farm: it is a hugely popular student club and it is also expanding quite a bit and will continue to supply lots of produce to Dining Services.


  • October 14 2008 at 12:08 pm
    Chris Erickson

    Just to add to this article, I think it is fair to say that that college “environmental” and “sustainability” rankings are here to stay.  Humans are in love with lists and the rankings mentioned above have already become entrenched fixtures in the intense competition that exists between college admissions offices.  This is not a bad thing, these lists can be a useful comparison tool and means by which institutions can exchange ideas, but this is true only as long as we read these lists wisely.  They certainly should not be taken at face value and it is very important to know the criteria, often not comprehensive, that were used to compile each list.  Also, we should never get so focused in that we are starting to initiate projects just so we can be moving up someone else's ranking.  They should be tools, nothing more.

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