Do what you will with this: The Princeton Review has released its list of “the 286 greenest colleges.” (Why not a round number, like 280, 250, or 300? In this particular case, who knows? But people in publishing know that lists with unusual numbers—mainly odd numbers—convey an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sense of completeness. Hence, “14 Barriers to Deep Sleep” in Men’s Health, and so on.)
This list is promoted both by the Princeton Review and the U.S. Green Building Council, with the assumption that students increasingly “are going green and care about a college’s commitment to sustainability,” as an article about the list in USA Today put it. In 2009, 66 percent of students—compared with 63 percent in 2008—told the Princeton Review that “they would find information about a college’s dedication to the environment useful in their college selection process,” according to the article. In it, Rachel Gutter, director for the Center for Green Schools at the Green Building Council, calls students “sustainability natives” who “instinctively make greener choices.”
Maybe some do. I seem to talk to a lot of college administrators and facilities people who are worried that students won’t enroll at their colleges if they don’t offer private rooms and private bathrooms, gobs of technology, swanky rec buildings and student centers, and other things that would enlarge an institution’s environmental footprint.
In any case, the list does feature many colleges that are doing great things in sustainability. Its rankings of the “greenest” colleges—which includes Arizona State University, Bates College, the College of the Atlantic, Colorado College, Northeastern University, among others—could be approached with some skepticism. Certainly, other green rankings like these have generated controversy, and this list is no different. Prior to publication, some sustainability directors at colleges had noted that this list was coming and said that they had been turned off by the Princeton Review’s revenue plan, as outlined in a solicitation to the “greenest” colleges:
“The U.S. Green Building Council and the Princeton Review, in conjunction with Earth Day 2010, will roll out a variety of opportunities for those selected green schools to tout their efforts and strides towards ‘being green,’” including being featured in an e-newsletter to be sent out on Earth Day or to run a profile in the green-colleges guide, the letter said. These “opportunities” cost thousands, according to one college official who forwarded the letter and called it a “pay to play” model. (The green guide features college profiles near the end, and the guide makes clear that the colleges paid for the spots.)