Think green, go green: The greenest universities around the world

greenest universities
The greenest universities are making the effort to become more sustainable for a better tomorrow. Source: AFP

Everyone’s familiar with the top university rankings like QS and the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, but have you ever considered where the greenest universities in the world lie?

A green university is an institution that prioritises environmental sustainability and strives to minimise its ecological footprint. The greenest universities aim to promote environmental awareness and responsibility among their students, staff, and the community.

Green universities began as a response to growing concerns about climate change, environmental degradation, and resource depletion. It became more popular when people began to realise the need for sustainable practices, like:

  • Reducing energy consumption by implementing energy-efficient technologies, utilising renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power, and promoting conservation measures.
  • Emphasising waste reduction, recycling, and proper disposal practices to minimise the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators.
  • Integrate sustainability into their academic programmes, offering courses, majors, and research opportunities related to environmental science, sustainability studies, renewable energy, and conservation.

According to the Princeton Review, there are 522 green institutions in the US. On that list is Stanford University, which is committed to achieving zero waste by 2030.

To reach this goal, they have implemented several sustainability initiatives, such as installing solar panels, promoting alternative transportation options, and incorporating sustainability into its curriculum.

greenest universities

Green universities are important to ensure a better future. Source: AFP.

Why is it important to have more green universities?

Green universities play a part in shaping a better future. They do this through various methods, such as:

  • Environmental conservation

Green universities prioritise sustainability in their operations, from energy usage to waste management. By reducing their carbon footprint and preserving natural resources, they contribute to environmental conservation.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, campuses produce large amounts of waste and emissions, but sustainable practices can reduce the impact.

  • Spreading awareness

By implementing green practices, green universities can educate students and staff about environmental issues and sustainable solutions. This instils a sense of responsibility in students to make conscious choices in their lives. For example, implementing courses on environmental studies or sustainability can raise awareness.

  • Better reputation

Green universities can enhance their reputation and competitiveness by committing to sustainability. They become leaders and inspire other institutions to follow their lead.

Ignoring sustainability practices can lead to increased operational costs because of inefficient resource use. This puts strain on university budgets and could result in higher tuition fees.

Missed opportunities for innovation, collaboration, and growth could take place too. Teaching about sustainability allows for creativity and entrepreneurship, leading to new research breakthroughs and economic development.

Luckily, many universities have recognised the need to adopt these sustainable practices. 

10 greenest universities around the world

1. University of Toronto

The University of Toronto stands out as one of the greenest universities in the world because of its commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly practices.  

Part of its commitment revolves around reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37% below 1990 levels by 2030. This has led to the university investing in renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines, allowing them to lower its carbon footprint. 

Other energy-saving measures taken include upgrading campus buildings with energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems. 

2. University of Nottingham

The University of Nottingham is known as one of the greenest universities worldwide due to its efforts to promote sustainability across its campuses. 

With renewable energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, and biomass boilers powering their campuses, the university has succeeded in reducing carbon emissions by nearly 40%.

They also promote recycling and waste reduction initiatives to divert waste from landfills. A recycling programme has been implemented across its campuses, providing students with easy access to recycling bins.

greenest universities

Using solar energy can have a positive, indirect effect on the environment when solar energy replaces or reduces the use of other energy sources. Source: AFP.

3. UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley is renowned as one of the greenest universities because of its dedication to sustainability. 

The university prioritises renewable energy sources to power its campus. One of its biggest investments is in solar energy, with 1.2 M solar panels installed across its campus buildings. 

To reduce carbon emissions from transportation, UC Berkeley promotes eco-friendly commuting options. Bike lanes, racks, and repair stations are available, and public transit passes are discounted for students to encourage the use of public transportation. 

4. University of Manchester 

Aside from its quality education, the University of Manchester is also renowned for its commitment to sustainability. Ranked among the top 10 greenest universities in the UK, it takes several steps to conserve the environment. 

It aims to become carbon neutral by 2038, and despite its big campus size and many activities, it has reduced its carbon emissions by 33% since 2007.

What’s more, over 100% of waste generated on campus is diverted from landfills through recycling and composting programmes.

greenest universities

Promoting sustainable modes of transportation can have positive impacts on environmental sustainability. Source: AFP.

5. University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia (UBC) was ranked among the top 10 greenest universities globally by the GreenMetric World University Rankings.

UBC aims to achieve a 100% reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Since this pledge, they have invested in renewable energy sources like solar and hydroelectric power as well as sustainable infrastructure. 

The university has over 31 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified buildings. These buildings are designed to prioritise energy efficiency, water conservation, and the use of eco-friendly materials. 

6. The University of Auckland 

The University of Auckland has earned a spot on the list of greenest universities due to its efforts in sustainability. It even ranked first in Oceania and fifth in the world in the 2024 QS World University sustainability rankings.

The university is dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint and has managed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions per student by over 20% in the past decade.

In 2022, the university diverted over 114 tonnes of food waste from landfills through recycling and composting.

greenest universities

Green universities can raise awareness of environmental issues and sustainable solutions and inspire students to take action. Source: AFP.

7. Imperial College London

Imperial College London’s emphasis on waste reduction and recycling resulted in its recycling rate reaching 65% in 2021, exceeding national averages for higher education institutions.

The university has invested in solar panels across its buildings, generating clean energy and reducing its carbon footprint. In fact, the Solar Energy Society at Imperial has been actively involved in promoting solar energy adoption and research.

Here, they developed a new photovoltaic (PV) leaf-like design technology, which could significantly enhance solar pane efficiency. 

greenest universities

Introducing recycling strategies can reduce a university’s carbon footprint. Source: AFP

8. ETH Zurich 

ETH Zurich actively prioritises the use of renewable energy sources through solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal energy systems to generate clean electricity. For example, the Solarschiff project involves equipping boats on Lake Zurich with solar panels to harness solar energy for various campus activities.

In 2021, ETH Zurich reduced carbon emissions by 35% compared to baseline levels. Over 70% of the university’s electricity consumption comes from renewable sources.

The university is a leader in sustainability research with groundbreaking studies on climate change, renewable energy, and environmental conservation. The SCCER Mobility initiative, for example, focuses on sustainable transportation solutions, including electric vehicles and alternative fuels.

9. University of Alcalá

The University of Alcalá (UAH) has earned its spot as one of the greenest universities in Spain by Greenmetric International Ranking and the third most sustainable university globally, according to Cool My Planet’s rankings.

At UAH, sustainability efforts such as energy recycling, efficient transportation systems, and water conservation are practised.

All of the university’s electricity consumption comes from renewable sources, including solar, wind, and biomass.

greenest universities

Improving transportation options, promoting energy efficiency and implementing sustainable practices can reduce air pollution. Source: AFP.

10. Emory University 

Emory University is one of the greenest universities in the world because of its efforts aimed at reducing its environmental impact and raising awareness about sustainability among its students.

The university awarded Cherry Street Energy, a leading solar power company, a 20-year agreement to install 5.5. megawatts (MW) of solar generation across campus.

Through initiatives like energy-efficient lighting, advanced heating and cooling systems, and building retrofits, Emory has achieved substantial energy savings. The university’s WaterHub system, a water recycling facility, saves over 100 million gallons of water annually and reduces the university’s potable water usage by about 40%.

The university’s commitment to sustainability has been recognised nationally and internationally. It has received numerous awards and certifications for its green initiatives, including a Gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) and recognition as one of the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools.”