Show Me the Green!

An increasing majority of students are beginning to choose colleges and universities based on the institutions’ commitment to sustainability.  Offering outstanding academic programs, financial assistance, and state-of-the art facilities will always be among the most important points of competitive differentiation, but surveys show that a greater number will seek those schools that focus not only on sustainable building  practices, but on “green” operations as a whole.  The pool of prospective college students is expected to decrease year-over-year following 2009’s record graduating high school class, and colleges and universities will need to differentiate themselves in new ways.

Environmental Commitment

According to a survey of 8,200 students by The Princeton Review, 69% of 2011 college applicants say having information about a college’s commitment to environmental issues would contribute to their decision to apply to or attend the school.  This is up from 64% from a 2008 survey.  In addition, 23% of those students said such information would “very much” impact their decision to apply to or attend to that university.  In response, The Princeton Review has recently added a guide to 311 Green Colleges to their “Best Colleges” publication.

Meeting Millennials Demands (and Beyond)
In our previous blog post describing the millennial consumer, we explained that today’s college students are socially engaged, demand a deep personal connection with their brands, and have an unprecedented level of access to information. This means that students who have made a personal commitment to environmentalism will put colleges and universities under the sustainable microscope, assess how well their personal values align with the institution’s, and then share that information with their peers.

Students aren’t just passively participating in sustainable campus practices.  In many instances they are initiating them.  For example, student activists at the University of Tennessee have endorsed a proposal to impose an $8 annual fee per student to help the university reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Denison University’s Go Green, Big Red program is driven by extensive student involvement in sustainable events, practices, and educational programs, such as a campus bike share program, and “Water Wars,” a competition between residence halls to decrease water usage. And Arizona State has created on-campus gardens, tended by students and supplying the campus dining halls with fresh produce.

How Do Institutions Engage the Sustainable Student?

The long-term operational savings generated through green facility design and construction are well publicized.  An upfront sustainable systems investment of 2% will, on average, result in a life cycle savings of 20%.  What is equally as notable is that the adoption of green building practices will pay off  in promoting LEED facilities design to attract new students.

However, highlighting behind-the-scenes sustainable systems will not be enough to appeal to today’s (and tomorrow’s) experience-seeking, commitment-demanding student.  Green-minded students need to see, and more importantly participate in institutional sustainability.

High-visibility green engagement strategies can range anywhere from serving residence-hall meals of fresh food that has been locally produced, to the school’s powering university lawn mowers with fryer oil.  If students smell French fries across campus, they know that the familiar comfort-food smell has been brought to them by sustainable practices!

By planning and designing facilities not only to incorporate tried-and-true sustainable operational systems, but also feature visible and engaging sustainable elements that promote green student participation, colleges and universities can infuse sustainability into every student’s daily life.  Low-flow toilets, composting, and high-profile solar paneling immediately come to mind, in addition to new innovations that architectural firms and materials manufacturers are designing every day.


Every Davis Wince, Ltd. project is green by design. Our eight LEED professionals incorporate sustainable practices and green systems into every phase of every project, focusing on maximizing return on first costs and supporting the needs of all user groups, including the student.  To discuss sustainability in higher education in more depth, or to review a sustainable campus project, please contact Jennifer Bobbitt at

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