Tuesday, August 12, 2008

School Colors

I know, I know, I've been neglecting you.

I last posted before jetting off (O.K. driving my hybrid off) to the Jersey shore to snatch a few hours of relaxation from what is turning out to be an awfully hectic summer.

And now, guess what? I'm doing it again.

I leave tomorrow on yet another abbreviated vacation, but feel guilty about doing it without another quick posting. (Is "blog guilt" a certified psychological condition yet?)

It occurred to me that at this time of year, elementary and secondary school students are busy denying the looming start of school, but that college students can no longer deny the inevitable.

So as parents and student alike prepare for the trek to whatever far-flung school junior has chosen drain you bank account, consider the following.

First, and most important on my blog, is the fact that my alma mater is number three.

The rank is courtesy of The Princeton Review's latest college rankings which now includes the "greenest colleges" in addition to other important rankings like best party school and school with the quirkiest mascot.

The greenest of them all, according to Princeton, is Arizona State University at the Tempe campus. Second is Bates College in Lewiston, Maine and then roaring in at third is my old school, Binghamton University (known formally as the State University of New York at Binghamton).

As any Binghamton alumni can immediately recognize, our school never really "roared" in anything. But anyway, the remaining schools on the list are, in order: College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia Institute of Technology, also in Atlanta, Harvard, University of New Hampshire, University of Oregon, University of Washington and Yale.

No doubt it galled Princeton to have to name Harvard and Yale as being better than them in anything. No worries through, Princeton ranked third in having the happiest students, a top-ten list that neither of its other Ivy League rivals even made; as well as being ranked first in students happy with their financial aid.

You can see all the rankings by clicking here.

And, as this article in The New York Times indicates, a green ranking is increasingly important to the up-and-coming generation.

As the Times article notes, the Princeton Review survey this year asked 10,300 college applicants about what was important to them and "63 percent said that a college’s commitment to the environment could affect their decision to go there."

But while all this awareness is exciting, there is doubt about how meaningful some of these labels are.

"Some higher education officials worry that campuses are taking easy steps to win the label rather than doing the kind of unglamorous work — replacing air exchange systems, for example — that would actually reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. Some campuses are changing little more than their press releases," the Times reports.

"Sustainability is far more than recycling and “Do It in the Dark” competitions to see which dorms use the least water and electricity. Sustainability is a complex concept, expensive and difficult to achieve. It involves an entirely new approach to day-to-day living and the reappraisal of the existing infrastructure," Kate Zernike writes in The Times.

(And now pardon my continued laziness as I try to do a week's worth of work and still leave for my vacation on time by shamelessly cutting and pasting two paragraphs from the Times story that really encapsulate the scale of the challenge and also manages to suck the joy out of any exuberance you might have felt about people finally starting to "get it.")

“It’s important that we focus on the significant rather than the symbolic, or at least recognize the symbolic for what it is,” says Sarah Hammond Creighton, the sustainability coordinator at Tufts. “I think the commitments are generally real, but I worry that the translation into the depth of the challenge hasn’t hit people.”

The most high-profile effort, and the most debated, is the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, signed over the last two years by more than 550 institutions representing about 30 percent of American students. Those who sign promise that within a year they will inventory their greenhouse gas emissions and within two will formulate a plan to arrive at carbon neutrality — that is, zero net CO2 emissions — “as soon as possible.” They also have to agree to at least two of seven measures, including buying 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources and building to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, a certification developed by the nonprofit United States Green Building Council.

Certainly, let's hope our nation's institutions of higher learning can meet those lofty goals.

In the meantime, let's also hope you parents out there with kids in college manage to avoid a conversation with them about what "Do It In the Dark" really means.

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