10 of the Greenest Universities in the US | Top Universities

10 of the Greenest Universities in the US

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Sabrina Collier

Updated Nov 14, 2023



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Environmental concerns might not be the biggest priority for the current US president, but American universities have upped their game in recent years to become more environmentally friendly through various sustainability goals and projects.

As universities become more “green” in the sustainable sense, many have also invested in and maintained beautiful green campuses, which make them ideal study locations for lovers of the great outdoors. If you want to study somewhere that’s environmentally conscientious and visually stunning, here are 10 US universities that are quite literally blooming.

University of California, Davis

University of California, Davis

First in our look at the greenest universities in the US is the University of California, Davis, ranked 118th in the QS World University Rankings® 2018, which has frequently been commended for being a very green university.

For example, in 2017 it was ranked third in the 2017 UI GreenMetric World University Rankings, due to its achievements in sustainability and in combating climate change.

The university features a 100-acre arboretum (a botanical garden devoted to trees), which was founded in 1936 and includes some 22,000 trees and plants adapted to a Mediterranean climate. When it comes to studying greenery, UCD has also been famed for its programs in agricultural economics, entomology, evolutionary biology, plant biology and ecology. It’s currently ranked within the world’s top 15 universities for environmental sciences in the QS World University Rankings by Subject.

Brown University

Brown University

Located in the city of Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University has a great deal of green space, and therefore doesn’t resemble a typical urban campus. Currently ranked 53rd in the world, it’s committed to sustainability, with its “Brown is Green” initiative setting goals to minimize the university’s energy use, reduce negative environmental impacts and contribute to a cleaner, healthier global environment.

In the past nine years, Brown has reduced its energy-related carbon footprint to 27.4 percent below 2007 levels. Students also get to enjoy a series of interconnected green spaces between the two main university campuses, which make great places to meet friends.

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley

Image credit: John Morgan (Flickr)

Our next green university is the University of California, Berkeley, currently ranked 27th in the world overall and consistently ranked first in the world for environmental sciences.

The university boasts impressive green spaces, as well as a good environmental record. UC Berkeley heats, cools, and powers its lab equipment utilizing power from an on-campus natural gas plant.

Also, two branches of the Strawberry Creek watercourse converge on the main campus, which also contains numerous wooded areas. These include Eucalyptus Grove, which is both the tallest stand of such trees in the world and the tallest stand of hardwood trees in North America.

Colorado State University

Colorado State University

Founded in 1870 as the Colorado Agricultural College, Colorado State University is now among the leading research universities in the US. Ranked 481-490 in the world, the university is situated in Fort Collins with various campuses totaling nearly 5,000 acres of land. This includes “The Oval”, an expansive green area measuring 2,065 feet (629 m) around, lined with 65 American Elm trees at the heart of the main campus.

Colorado State is also home to Pingree Park, the university’s unique mountain campus, which offers the opportunity for students to leave the hectic pace of urban life behind and be immersed in the natural world of the Rocky Mountains. In terms of sustainability, the university has pledged to power its Fort Collins campus on 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and runs a range of other sustainability initiatives.  

Green Mountain College

Poultney, Vermont

Not only is Vermont’s Green Mountain College very appropriately named for this list of green universities, it’s also a very environmentally friendly institution. Among its sustainability projects is “Cow Power”, which generates electricity from the methane gas in manure – yes, you read that right.

Green Mountain College was among the first US universities to achieve complete climate neutrality (meaning it removes as many greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as it emits), and is recognized in the 2017 Princeton Review guide of top Green Colleges as the 15th greenest university in the US.

Its 155-acre campus features athletic fields, a farm which runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project, hiking trails, and a great swimming hole on the Poultney River.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Ranked 80th in the world, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill offers 460 undergraduate and 100 graduate courses in 52 departments that incorporate sustainability themes or address sustainability challenges.

The American Society of Landscape Architects selected the Carolina campus as one of the most beautifully landscaped spots in the country. That listing is just one piece of praise among many for the university’s beautiful green spaces, featuring vast oaks, majestic quadrangles and distinctive brick sidewalks.

The university’s botanical garden includes many impressive green features, including solar energy generation, geothermal wells, and cisterns which store rainwater for future irrigation use.

Stanford University

Stanford University

Ranked an impressive second in the world academically, Stanford University also seeks to make sustainable living a part of its student experience. This green university is located on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus on the San Francisco Peninsula, which has been listed by Travel + Leisure as one of the most beautiful campuses in the US. It’s also in the top 10 of Princeton Review’s 2017 Guide to Green Colleges.

Having demolished Meyer Library,  the campus’ already appealing green aesthetic was expanded with the edition of a landscaped open space called Meyer Green.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University

Ranked 227th in the world, Georgetown University’s picturesque main campus is built on a rise above the Potomac River, and is therefore often called “The Hilltop”. The university’s green spaces include fountains, a cemetery, large clusters of flowers, groves of trees, and open quadrangles.

Founded in 1789, the same year the US Constitution took effect, it is the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. Today, it is pursuing a range of practical approaches to sustainability, including an ambitious commitment to halve its carbon footprint by 2020, and a major off-site solar power project which will produce nearly half of the university's electricity by mid-2019.

Emory University

Emory University

Photo via Good Free Photos

Located around 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta in the tree-lined suburban neighborhood of Druid Hills, Emory University is ranked joint 147th in the world and has consistently been praised as one of the greenest universities in the US.

Emory has been recognized by the Princeton Review, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and the Washington Post for its outstanding commitment to sustainability. It leads the nation in its construction of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings (structures which meet high standards in being environmentally friendly). The campus is also rich in natural beauty, open spaces, trees and plant life.

Cornell University

Cornell University

Ranked 14th in the world, Cornell University’s main campus is on East Hill in Ithaca, New York, overlooking the town and Cayuga Lake. Ithaca itself has been named among the best green cities in the US.

Adjacent to the main campus, this green university owns the 2,800 acre (11.6 km²) Cornell Plantations, a botanical garden containing flowers, trees and ponds along manicured trails. Cornell prides itself on ensuring that new building design and construction is approached with sustainability firmly in mind and, like Emory, has a number of LEED-certified green buildings on campus.

It was also ranked seventh in the 2017 Princeton Review top 375 green colleges. 

This blog post was originally published in August 2015. It was updated in February 2018.

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