Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity today. Reversing global warming and increased instances of extreme weather can seem like a futile task. But luckily, many colleges across the USA are working towards feasible solutions. And with each passing day, they are becoming ever more progressive and innovative. The 30 colleges in this article are currently leading the fight for the environment.
Colleges are naturally forward-thinking institutions. As educators of future generations, colleges have a responsibility to address the challenges of a changing world. And no challenge is as great as the need to preserve the planet. All over America, colleges have taken up this challenge. Climate change will not be fixed overnight. There is no easy solution. But some colleges are working on ever more ingenious answers.
Addressing climate change on college campuses is multifaceted and complex. Colleges need to be working on a range of measures, such as researching new technology, collaborating with world governments, encouraging student activism and so much more. Accordingly, this ranking has assessed a variety of actions that colleges are taking to fight climate change. This has ensured a list of colleges that are defending the planet on many fronts.
Any of the 30 colleges below is a fine choice for a prospective student who wants to study in a climate action focused institution. However, it’s also possible that none of the colleges below are right for you. If that’s the case, then this ranking can still be a vital resource. Each entry has a summary of what and how the college is fighting climate change. These summaries have been included so that you can compare and contrast them with your own college options. If any college you’re considering is tackling climate change like the ones below, then that’s a strong sign that it’s a college worth attending.
The base research of this article came from a range of respected educational publications. Through these publications, we sourced the colleges that made this ranking. Those sources are as follows:
- Times Higher Education, Top Universities for climate action
- The Chronicle Of Higher Education, Climate Change Means Making Tough Choices
- American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment: Higher Education’s Role in Adapting to a Changing Climate
- Best Colleges, Climate Change Activism on College Campuses
- The University Network, Universities Lead Battle to Reverse Climate Change
After sourcing the colleges, we then conducted further research into their climate action activities. This research led to the decision to include them in the final list and where to rank them. The ranking criteria are as follows: Number of mentions in methodology sources, commitment to becoming a green campus, evidence of fighting climate change in various ways, and innovative climate strategies.
The final ranking, from 30 to one, is below:
30. Washington College
The Chronicle of Higher Education highlights how Washington College is increasing its environmental science education efforts. Part of this effort includes constructing the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall, which will be a zero-energy building. It is being built next to the water, but its construction means that it will withstand the next 30 years of sea-level rise. This hall is part of Washington College’s Center for Environment & Society, which has been an important department of the college since 1999. Its mission is to promote and foster the integration of ecological and social values.
29. Bristol Community College
Fall River, Massachusetts
The Bristol Community College course in air sealing and insulation gains praise in American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment for preparing students for jobs that tackle climate change. But Bristol Community College is also fighting climate change in ways other than teaching students. It also runs the Institute for Sustainability & Post-Carbon Education. This institution’s education extends to leaders in academia, public health, business, and government. The institute implements its goals by managing degree programs, certificate-credit programs, and workforce development programs.
28. Pepperdine University
Pepperdine University is designed to combat the effects of climate change in a very literal way, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes. This is because the college has been built to survive the worsening wildfires that afflict California. It has done this in various ways, such as by maintaining a 200-foot zone around the college that is free of flammable brush. In addition to the college’s design, Pepperdine University also runs the Center for Sustainability, promoting climate action in several ways. For instance, it runs a sustainability minor, conducts research into conservation/ecological restoration, and runs the Climate Calling Conference.
27. Antioch University New England
Keene, New Hampshire
American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment highlights Antioch University New England’s MS in Environmental Studies as a strong example of how colleges can adapt their curriculum to fighting climate change. However, Antioch University in New England is also tackling climate action outside of its educational offerings. For instance, it has the Center for Climate Preparedness & Community Resilience. This center conducts research and consults with organizations to create climate solutions. The approach of the center is to be “solutions-oriented, pragmatic, participatory and inclusive.” The center also works on local, national, and international projects, ensuring that the college’s climate change work has a wide-ranging impact.
26. University of California, Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Thanks to the University of California, Los Angeles’s Institute of the Environment & Sustainability communities can “better understand how climate change will affect them and how to respond.” In addition to this essential work, the institute trains scientists to devise out of the box solutions to climate change. The institute has published dozens of important works related to climate change to date. The University of California, Los Angeles’s climate change combat mitigation efforts are also being put into practice on campus. For instance, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the campus is replacing flammable trees with those that are better adapted to hot climates.
25. Tufts University
American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment praises many aspects of Tufts University’s climate action. For example, the source is impressed by how the college adapts student and faculty-based climate research and implements it into renewable energy and efficiency programs. Additionally, since 1999, Tufts University’s climate change fight has been aided by the Tufts Climate Initiative, which later became part of its Office of Sustainability. This initiative has helped the college reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020, this initiative had led to a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on campus compared to the year 1990.
24. University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Over 50 researchers from a range of disciplines at the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative have joined forces to answer critical environmental questions. The main goal of this initiative is to find environmental health solutions that minimize the trade-offs for human welfare. This initiative also took control of the Global Adaptation Institute in 2013, turning it into the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, which later changed its name to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. This initiative has a number of achievements. Most notably, it created an online tool that combined 20 years of data to showcase the climate change vulnerabilities and readiness of 181 countries. American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment praises the work of the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative.
23. The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
The extreme flood-response plans at The University of Iowa are so strong that many other organizations have used them as a guide, notes The Chronicle of Higher Education. But the college’s climate change activities go much further than extensive flood planning. It also conducts objective research, educates for climate change, and performs outreach efforts in the State of Iowa. This work is effective due to The University of Iowa’s approach, which “involves listening to the concerns and ideas of Iowans as they seek solutions for environmental issues they confront every day in their communities.” And in addition to this, the college is one of the lead centers of the Iowa Climate Statement, which brings together almost 200 college faculty and researchers from over 35 Iowa colleges to work on climate change solutions.
22. Stony Brook University
Stony Brook, New York
The researchers at Stony Brook University “are at the forefront of the search for solutions to the challenges presented by climate change.” This work stretches from coastal protection to social change anticipations due to issues such as drought. The college’s students are also highly active in fighting climate change. For instance, two current students, James Pizarro and Emily Schalkham have been promoting climate change education as members of the group Students For Climate Action. This group is mobilizing students to work towards government climate policies and renewable energy initiatives. Times Higher Education also considers Stony Brook University to be the 99th best college for climate action globally.
21. Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, New Jersey
Stevens Institute of Technology helps communities cope with the effects of climate change through “prediction, preparation, and reconstruction.” For example, it has advised and continues to advise New York City leaders on climate change-related issues. Additionally, it is also engineering a range of solutions to climate change, such as SURE HOUSE, a zero-energy solar home that can withstand hurricanes and floods. This home will influence future architecture and city planning decisions. American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment also acknowledges the impact of Stevens Institute of Technology being a part of The Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast, which is made up of a range of colleges in the northeastern part of the USA.
20. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
In 2020, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, launched a climate action plan with the primary goal of getting the college to net-zero gas emissions by the year 2050. This plan builds upon the college’s already impressive climate change prevention work. For instance, between 2007 and 2020, the college’s net emissions decreased by 20%. Additionally, the college also currently offers more than 130 courses that provide sustainability-learning opportunities. Times Higher Education considers the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to be the 87th best college in the world for climate action.
19. Drexel University
The Drexel University campus is home to a range of climate and sustainability research groups. Perhaps the most impressive of these is the North American Hub of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. This network “is a consortium of over 800 individuals dedicated to analyzing climate change mitigation and adaptation from an urban perspective.” Additionally, American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment notes that Drexel University’s climate change research endeavors are further enhanced by its membership with The Consortium for Climate Risk in the Urban Northeast. This consortium is formed out of a range of northeastern US colleges and focuses on assessing/managing risks from climate variability and change.
18. Portland State University
In 2010, Portland State University stepped up its commitment to fighting climate change. That year, it released the Climate Action Plan, which aimed to make the campus carbon neutral by the year 2040. The college’s Campus Sustainability Office has been overseeing a range of initiatives to help achieve that goal. At present, the office believes that by late 2021, almost one-quarter of the college’s electricity will come from regional solar panels. Times Higher Education names Portland State University the 74th best college in the world for taking climate action.
17. Oregon State University
According to Times Higher Education, along with American University, Oregon State University is ranked as the joint 69th best college in the world for climate action. Part of what puts this college above many other climate change-focused colleges in the USA is the fact that it administers the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. This institute has created a network of over 150 researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, Portland State University, Southern Oregon University, and a range of federal and state labs in Oregon.
16. University of Massachusetts, Amherst
The variety of courses that incorporate climate change action at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst is praised in American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Since 2010, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst has adhered to a climate action plan. The current climate action plan was developed in 2012. And in 2020, the college is also developing a Carbon Mitigation Plan, which will accelerate its climate action goals. This plan will pave the way for the college to be carbon neutral and use 100% renewable energy by 2030.
15. Colgate University
Hamilton, New York
In 2019, Colgate University reached an important milestone. It became the first higher education institution in New York State to become carbon neutral. However, the college also realizes that the fight against climate change goes further than its own campus. The college is also investing in off-campus initiatives to remove carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere and prevent unnecessary emissions. Additionally, Colgate University’s director of sustainability, John Pumilio, has told The Chronicle of Higher Education that it needs to plan to manage the increased impact of climate change on energy consumption in the future.
14. American University
Times Higher Education considers both American University and Oregon State University as tied for the place of the 69th best college for climate action in the world. In 2018, the college achieved an incredible goal that proved that it led in the fight against climate change. It became the first university in America to reach carbon neutrality. The college managed to reach this achievement two years ahead of its schedule. However, American University is also looking to address the USA’s approach to climate change through the Center for Environmental Policy. This center was founded in 2010, and over the course of the last decade, it has done much to create dialogues on climate change with government leaders. It has also formed an association with the USA’s former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly to protect the environment throughout America.
13. Florida Institute of Technology
The current sustainability guide for the Florida Institute of Technology reveals that the college is taking action on climate change, both on-campus and on a global scale. For example, the college’s partnership with Siemens Industries had resulted in the college reducing its electricity consumption by 8,000,000 kWh per year by the year 2016. And the college has teamed up with leading STEM colleges in Europe to work on sustainability conferences. Times Higher Education names Florida Institute of Technology as the 36th best college in the world for climate action.
12. Northern Arizona University
For almost 50 years, Northern Arizona University has been a leader and innovator in climate change. In 1973, the college “became one of the nation’s first universities to add an environmental studies degree to the curriculum.” And in the years since this course’s establishment, over two-thirds of the college’s academic departments have created their own sustainability courses. The college also founded the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals in 1992, the Office of Sustainability in 2008, and the NAU Green Fund in 2010. Times Higher Education considers Northern Arizona University to be the 31st best college in the world for climate action.
11. University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
Buffalo, New York
Times Higher Education considers University at Buffalo, The State University of New York to be the world’s seventh-best college for climate action. In 2020, the college launched a whole new Climate Action Plan. This plan used the college’s five decades of environmental leadership to pave the way towards climate neutrality. In the current plan, the college aims to achieve net-zero emissions by the year 2030. University at Buffalo, The State University of New York also has many climate change experts as a part of its faculty, such as Jason Briner, who is a professor of geology and specializes in sea-level change and Arctic environmental change; and Irus Braverman, who is a professor of law and specializes in legislation governing wildlife extinction and climate change.
10. Washington State University
Best Colleges states that Washington State University is taking effective social action towards combating climate change. Similarly, American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment also cites the college’s Climate Friendly Farming project as a proactive effort to make the agriculture industry more sustainable. At present, most of Washington State University’s climate change action is conducted by its School of the Environment. This school advances the “scientific and social innovation needed to conserve biological diversity and promote productive and sustainable ecological and human communities.”
9. Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
Best Colleges commends the student activism on climate change that is taking place at Yale University. The University Network, however, praises the college’s leaders for standing by the Paris Climate Agreement after the US government withdrew from it. Yale University also conducts much research and outreach on climate change. One example is the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which is currently conducting scientific studies on the public’s opinions/behavior, informing the decisions of governments/companies, educating the public, and building support for climate action, among other activities.
8. Vanderbilt University
The University Network notes that Vanderbilt University has made some impressive advances in harnessing human movement to create clean energy. For instance, college professors created an energy harvesting device that can be sewn into clothing without impacting comfort or appearance. Best Colleges notes that the college is also taking proactive social action on climate change. Vanderbilt University’s Climate Change Initiative is multidisciplinary. Community members from various college departments are working together to make young people climate action leaders through its experiential learning and international collaboration opportunities. The initiative also supports businesses and governments in reducing climate risks.
7. The University of Wisconsin-Madison
Since 2007, The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s fight against climate change has been spearheaded by the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. This initiative was formed between the college itself and the Wisconsin State Government’s Department of Natural Resources. Since its formation, it has been evaluating climate change’s impacts on the state of Wisconsin and fostering solutions to these impacts. American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment praises the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts as one of the leading college research programs on climate change in America. The University Network notes that The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s students are also implementing climate change solutions independently.
6. Columbia University
New York City, New York
The University Network notes that Columbia University is one of several to stand by the Paris Climate Agreement, even after the US Government withdrew. American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment also praises the college’s climate-based degrees. And in 2020, Columbia University’s fight against climate change became more focused than ever. The college announced that it would establish The Columbia Climate School. This school “will work in partnership with the deans and faculties of other schools and make use of the university’s network of Global Centers in countries around the world.”
5. Arizona State University
American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment highlights Arizona State University’s sustainability degree as a leading example of how American Colleges can adapt their education to fighting climate change. Additionally, Times Higher Education considers Arizona State University to be the 41st best college in the world for climate action. Arizona State University stepped up in its fight against climate change in 2020. The college announced that it was launching the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. This laboratory will run the new College of Global Futures, the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation, and the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service.
4. University of Washington
The climate justice seminars that the University of Washington’s law school runs are cited in American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment as a strong curriculum example of colleges addressing climate change. Additionally, the college’s climate change research program is cited as offering great educational opportunities in Best Colleges. The current climate action plan at the University of Washington has set clear goals for the college to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. It aims to decrease emissions to 36% below 2005 levels by 2035. Its long term goal is to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions. The college’s provisional date for achieving this milestone is 2050, although the college does also acknowledge that it may take longer.
3. The George Washington University
Initially, The George Washington University committed to becoming carbon neutral by the year 2040. But in 2020, the college reassessed its priorities and accelerated its carbon neutrality goal to being achieved by the year 2030. The college’s climate action goals are being achieved thanks to the implementation of many successful initiatives, such as the Capital Partners Solar Project, the Eco-Building Program, and the Charged Up Solar Design Competition. American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment also notes that The George Washington University has hosted one of its Climate Leadership Summits. Best Colleges praises the climate activism of the college’s students.
2. Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
The Cornell Climate Smart Solutions Program at Cornell University is just one way that the college is fighting climate change. This program allows over 150 researchers from various disciplines at the college to focus on understanding and finding solutions to climate change. The program has been running since the year 2013. American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment praises the department that runs the Cornell Climate Smart Solutions Program, The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The University Network also highlights Cornell University’s commitment to stand by the Paris Climate Agreement despite the US Government’s actions.
1. Harvard University
Three methodology sources praise the climate action that Harvard University is taking, but for different reasons. The University Network notes that the college is one of several to stand by the Paris Climate Agreement after the US announced its withdrawal. Best Colleges praises the college’s student protest activism. Lastly, American College & University, Presidents’ Climate Commitment praises the college’s climate action-based courses. Harvard University also has some ambitious goals for becoming an environmentally friendly campus. Its current climate action plan aims to get the college fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 and fossil-fuel-free by 2050.
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