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Green Campus USA: Universities Focus on Sustainability

campus life
majors
career planning
By Matt Killorin
Published on April 7, 2021

Green jobs are the future. See how environmentalism courses and fields of study at American colleges can lead to innovative career options.

Four international students plant a tree on campus at their US university

Sustainability on university campuses across the United States extends beyond Earth Day, the once-a-year celebration of environmentalism and actions to help protect our environment. Many students make sustainable development and green campus initiatives part of their college decision-making process: 66% of the 12,000 students and parents interviewed by The Princeton Review in 2020 said having information about a college’s pledge to environmental issues would contribute to their application and enrollment decisions. Universities have taken notice, and have invested in green campus policies and degree offerings that reflect students’ desires to build a healthier, safer world for tomorrow and beyond. 

Let’s take a look at sustainability efforts on campuses across the US and what fields of study and careers are available to students interested in green degrees and jobs.  

How Do US University Campuses Focus on Sustainability? 

Over the last 20 years, US colleges and universities have committed to green campuses, administering environmental policies and improving campus sustainability efforts. For example, many US university campuses have switched to renewable energy sources to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. They have implemented recycling and composting initiatives to lessen the burden on landfills, and through carbon offsetting and CO2 emission reduction efforts, colleges are fighting global warming. 

As a result, many universities and colleges in the United States are role models of institutional sustainability for governments, businesses, and learning centers worldwide. 

Here are four Shorelight universities that show what it means to be a green campus.  

1. Adelphi University

Adelphi University has promoted sustainability for almost two decades, and has one of the longest-standing records of compliance at the university level with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations on health, environment, and hazardous waste disposal. 

Adelphi, located in New York, is also one of the first universities in the region to utilize geothermal energy to heat and cool university buildings and residence halls, saving an estimated 30% of electricity usage. The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded the Adelphi University Centers for Performing Arts and Sports and Recreation with LEED Certifications. In addition to the geothermal heating and cooling systems used in these buildings and in new residence halls at Adelphi, the university also uses regionally produced building materials, recycled materials, and certified wood harvested from responsibly managed forests. 

2. American University 

American University (AU) ranks 26 on Princeton Review’s list of the 2020 top 50 green colleges, 49 on Sierra Club’s top Cool Schools list for 2020, and received a Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). When it comes to sustainability, AU is a true innovator: It’s the first urban campus, the first research institution, and the US’s largest university to achieve carbon neutrality. 

Located in Washington, DC, American University’s electricity comes from 100% renewable resources, including 50% solar power. In addition, because of their efficient building supplies and green building policies, AU reduced overall electricity usage on campus by more than 21% in the last 15 years. Using renewable energy and reducing the university’s overall emissions are just one part of their green campus plan. AU has also planted more than 1.2 million trees to offset the remainder of its carbon footprint and achieve complete neutrality

3. Gonzaga University 

Gonzaga University has also been recognized as a green college by The Princeton Review and received a Gold rating from AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Included in Gonzaga’s ecological mission is the university’s Real Food Challenge, which sets a campus-wide foodservice goal of 20% fairly sourced, humanely raised, and locally produced products. Gonzaga, located in Spokane, Washington, also participates in the city’s Clean Green program, helping compost more than 35 tons of yard and food waste annually. 

Gonzaga has two Gold-level LEED-certified buildings on campus and has a campus-wide pledge to reduce emissions 50% by 2035. The university’s sustainability directives extend beyond green buildings, food programs, and landscaping initiatives and include transportation, information technology, water use, and more. 

4. University of the Pacific 

In partnership with Tesla, the University of the Pacific in California recently launched a new solar power initiative that will generate enough electricity to power 650 homes for a whole year. By not burning fossil fuels, solar power harvesting car canopies — which will cover eight campus parking lots — will remove more than 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. 

The University of the Pacific has a STARS silver rating. Included in the many other sustainability initiatives on campus is the Green Team, a group of student volunteers making campus a better, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly place. The Green Team runs landfill diversion projects and helps spread the word about recycling, reusing, and thinking about the environment while living on campus. 

What Fields of Study Focus on Sustainability? 

Sustainability isn’t just a social cause on campus. Many Shorelight universities have also built green initiatives into their courses and curricula. There are earth-friendly career options in every discipline, from environmental architecture and engineering to marine sciences and environmental law. Environmental science, for instance, is growing in popularity as a major, with more younger environmental scientists in the workforce earning high wages

Here is a list of some of the most popular sustainability-focused degree options: 

  • Environmental architecture and environmental design

  • Environmental engineering

  • Environmental health sciences

  • Environmental law

  • Environmental science and sustainability

  • Horticulture

  • Marine sciences

  • Renewable energy

  • Sustainable agriculture

  • Wildlife ecology

Let’s take a look at a few examples of academic programs at Shorelight schools focused on the environment and sustainability. 

Florida International University

The Bachelor of Arts degree in Sustainability and the Environment at Florida International University is a one-of-a-kind program designed to tackle the complexity of balancing society with natural resource management. The interdisciplinary course helps students measure sustainability in building projects, strategize for future human needs and requirements, and lobby for better environmental policy. 

Classes range from geology, physics, and biology to macroeconomics, communications, and ethics in this diversified major. (See the FIU major maps to view a sample curriculum for a four-year freshman and a two-year transfer student.) Students also participate in a capstone project focusing on sustainable resource management, policy, or impact on society, business, or culture. 

The BA in Sustainability and the Environment is also available online

UMass Boston

The Environmental Studies and Sustainability program at UMass Boston is a nationally recognized undergraduate program that blends classroom learning with internship, research, and cooperative education opportunities throughout Boston and along the Atlantic coastline of the US. Students have the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the environment through a diversified course list that spans anthropology, law, history, management, economics, and the sciences.

UMass Boston’s School for the Environment is a nationally recognized college that produces graduates who continue their education in various fields, including MBAs, urban planning master’s degrees, and doctorates in marine biology and other scientific pursuits. UMass’s tier-1 research facilities are available to environment students, including the Sustainable Solutions Lab, which was recently awarded $88,000 in climate justice research grants

Other Universities and Green Programs of Study

Many Shorelight universities have excellent academic programs focusing on specific areas of environmental and sustainability studies. Others, such as the University of Central Florida, offer interdisciplinary studies degrees with program tracks in the sciences, communication, urban planning, and more. 

The Environmental & Sustainability Studies program at the University of Utah has learning tracks focused on conservation and land management; food systems and community; air, water, and health; and ecojustice education that incorporate the state’s high desert geography and natural elements into coursework. 

At Louisiana State University, students can study coastal environmental science or protect communities from hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes in the Disaster Science & Management concentration of the university’s geography major.  

Many great programs take advantage of the natural environment near campus — check out coastal cities if you are interested in marine biology or oceanic studies, or urban schools if you are interested in city planning, food systems, or the business side of environmental studies. Or, reach out to a Shorelight advisor if you are looking for programs to help you develop your environmental interests into a career. 

Green Careers Are the Jobs of the Future 

From green design professionals to recyclers to solar cell technicians, future green jobs look bright for those interested in sustainability. In the United States alone, the green economy currently employs more than 9.5 million people and generates $1.3 trillion in sales revenue annually, according to a recent study from Humanities and Social Sciences Communications

Let’s look at potential job opportunities for graduates with green degrees. 

Project Manager: Offshore Wind/Renewable Energy

Renewable energy comprised close to 20% of the United States’ energy generation in 2020, with wind power representing the highest renewable energy source at 8.4%. In addition to needing wind turbine engineers and environmental scientists, renewable energy firms look for employees who can work with and manage complex teams of scientists and engineers and present their ideas to governmental groups, investors, and executives in ways they can understand – and then take action. 

See a sample list of current wind energy jobs

Hydrologists

In the United States, more than 90% of the population gets its tap water from community water systems. These systems are subject to environmental and societal factors — such as sewer releases, local land-use practices, and manufacturing activity — and need to be rigorously tested for safety. Hydrologists study how water moves over and through the earth and solve water quality and availability problems. They also find solutions for water pollution, and work with engineers and governments to plan better water access for changing communities. 

Hydrologists’ jobs are expected to grow at a higher-than-average 5% between 2019 and 2029 based on population and pollution factors. 

See a sample list of hydrologist jobs. 

Other Green Job Opportunities

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) reports that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable energy jobs grew in 2019–2020 to more than 11.5 million worldwide. The following three jobs represent some of the many green careers available in the United States and across the globe. These green jobs offer competitive salaries and opportunities for advancement. If you are concerned about the environment, these positions also offer an opportunity to enact positive change for future life on Planet Earth. 

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

US Growth Outlook between 2019 and 2029

8% — much faster than average

US Median Salary

$70,000+

Environmental Engineers

US Growth Outlook between 2019 and 2029

3% — average

US Median Salary

$88,000+

Conservation Scientists

US Growth Outlook between 2019 and 2029

5% — faster than average

US Median Salary

$62,000+

The Future of Green Jobs 

From incorporating artificial intelligence into farming practices to plastic-eating enzyme cultivation, technology, innovation, and necessity will create new green career paths that we can hardly dream of today. These trailblazing opportunities may not have a how-to manual. Students in sustainability and environmental programs will be best suited to build careers in new green industries and make exciting breakthroughs that will change the world for the better. 

Shorelight can help you pursue a US university degree