The Greening of BU

The Princeton Review has named BU in its Guide to 286 Green Colleges. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

The Princeton Review has named BU in its Guide to 286 Green Colleges. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Survey: University among most sustainable schools

By Vicky Waltz

What a difference two years and $1 million can make.

When President Robert A. Brown announced the establishment of the Boston University Sustainability Committee in 2008, he vowed to reduce energy consumption and decrease waste across the campus by pledging $1 million for projects that would deliver the highest environmental impact with the least cost.

The effort paid off — so well, in fact, that the Princeton Review recently named BU in its Guide to 286 Green Colleges.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” says Dennis Carlberg, director of sustainability. “We’ve worked very hard to create a more sustainable BU; being recognized by the Princeton Review proves that we’re succeeding.”

Published in partnership with the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, the guide focuses on colleges and universities that demonstrate “an above-average commitment to sustainability activities and initiatives.”

According to Carlberg, reviewers chose schools based on campus quality of life, how well they prepare students for employment in a green economy, and how environmentally friendly the school’s behavior and facilities are.

The Princeton Review began the guide after a survey of nearly 16,000 high school students and their parents revealed that 66 percent consider environmental sustainability to be important when looking at institutions of higher education.

“More than ever, college students are committed to the environment and to the impact they have on it,” Carlberg says.

Schools that received green scores of 80 or higher in the 2009 Princeton Review’s annual guidebook appear in the Guide to 286 Green Colleges. BU’s score was 88, based partially on investments to improve buildings’ energy efficiency through retrofitted features such as heat preservation systems, light-occupancy sensors, and water-efficiency upgrades, the large number of environmental clubs, and recycling efforts.

The guide also cited the University’s decision to eliminate trays in the dining halls, purchase organic and local produce, and compost preconsumer waste through the Dining Services Sustainability Program.

“We were recognized in areas of transportation,” Carlberg says, “because we’re integrated with the MBTA, we have the BU Shuttle (BUS), a ride-sharing program, and parking for bikes, and the city’s first bike lane was built here.”

The University has come a long way since Brown promised a greener BU in 2008, a promise that came on the heels of a less-than-stellar report card from the Sustainable Endowments Institute, an environmental agency that evaluates and grades sustainability levels at more than 300 U.S. and Canadian universities.

“The University’s green report card has improved incredibly,” Carlberg says. “We went from a D in 2007 to a solid B in 2010.”

In 2009, the University hired Carlberg as its first director of sustainability and implemented campus-wide printing quotas. Earlier this year, it launched an updated version of the Web site Sustainability@BU. The site, which directs visitors to many opportunities to work toward a more sustainable future, was recently selected as an honoree in the green category of the 14th annual Webby Awards.

“It didn’t happen overnight,” Carlberg says, “but little by little, we’re coming closer to our goal: a green BU.”

This story first appeared in BU Today on May 6, 2010
Vicky Waltz can be reached at, or follow her on Twitter at @vickywaltz.

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