As centers of education and idealism, universities and high schools are fast becoming the most progressive fronts in the battle to stop climate change. Universities throughout the United States, as well as abroad, are taking steps to reduce their campus’ energy consumption, purchase or produce clean energy, construct green buildings, and promote recycling and waste reduction.
(November 2015) Short answers to hard questions about climate change – NewYorkTimes



  • Student action
  • How students can reduce their footprints
  • Jobs/Career guides
  • Links to organizations
  • Student divestment campaign
  • What colleges are doing
  • Students challenge coal on campus
  • High schools
 Student action

Juliana Lawsuit. A groundbreaking climate lawsuit, brought against the federal government by 21 children, has been hailed by environmentalists as a bold new strategy to press for climate action in the United States. The lawsuit, the first of its kind, argues the federal government has violated the constitutional right of the 21 plaintiffs to a healthy climate system. Environmental groups say the case, if it’s successful, could force even a reluctant government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take other measures to counter warming.  Page link here

August 2014: Eleven ways young people have revolutionized the climate debate.Young people are often the most passionate voices on climate change, and with reason – as the planet warms over the coming century, it is the future of the youngest at stake. As such, it is often youth that are the loudest and the most ambitious in calling for action, proving to be anything from serious combatants to potential allies to the politicians in charge. For RTCC’s Youth Week, we’ve picked 11 moments where young people have made climate history. link   

Suggested links for student action: How to become an activist & benefits of the gap year

 How students can reduce their footprints

In Recycle your clothes. February 2013 H&M started to collect used clothes on all the H&M sales markets in cooperation with I:CO For each kilogram of clothes (they can be from anywhere) H&M makes donations to a local charity in that country (charity link). H&M’s worldwide garment collecting initiative means you can drop off your unwanted garments in all our H&M stores across the globe to halt old clothing ending up in landfills. link

Seven steps to a greener dorm room
Green tips for dorm living

Many of the ideas listed on the What You Can Do page are things that the average college or university student can easily do as an individual.  But collectively students are in a unique and powerful position to influence the decisions of their institution’s leaders and make significant changes on their campuses, as shown by the examples above.

There are many ways students can make a difference. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Join your campus’ environmental group or start your own.  The Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) is a national grassroots coalition of student and youth environmental groups fighting environmental injustice. SEAC Facebook page link 

Green your transportation. If you live on campus or nearby, ride your bike, walk, or take public transit as much as possible.  If you commute to school consider carpooling, or start a campus carpooling program if one does not already exist.

Make smart paper choices. Students use massive amounts of paper. Buy recycled paper and notebooks, and recycle papers you no longer need.  Print only what you need to print, and whenever possible print on both sides of the sheet. Save sheets that have only been printed on one side to use as scrap paper or for printing on the other side.

Write to your school or local newspaper. If there is something you want to changeor an effort you want to praise, write about it! This is also a great way to publicize what your group is doing on campus and attract new members.

Recycle old jeans. Certain universities are collecting old jeans as participants in campaigns to recycle old jeans.  University campaigns are run by students and are making an impact on the environment in their own way. link   
Reduce waste on campus. 
This may seem obvious but campuses produce lots of garbage that ends up in landfills.  Reuse or recycle everything you can!  Use reusable water bottles instead of buying bottled water.  Push for more reusable items in dining halls, such as reusable bags, cups, and plates. Avoid styrofoam and plastic and if you must use disposable products, opt for those made from paper. Push for a campus composting program for leftover food.

Buy used. A great way to save money and the planet is to buy used. Textbooks are much cheaper if purchased used from the school bookstore or online. But don’t stop there! Look for good used furniture, appliances, and clothes at thrift stores or on sites like Craigs List. Sell or trade your stuff when you’re finished with it instead of throwing it away. Organize a yard sale at the end of the school year.

Unplug appliances when not in use. Your cell phone charger is consuming energy even when your phone isn’t plugged in. Your computer is hogging energy while you’re asleep. Put appliances on a power strip that you can turn off at once if you have trouble remembering to unplug each one.  For more on conserving energy check out the Conservation page.

Be involved. Probably one of the best ways you can make a difference is to be involved on your campus and within your community. You can meet others with similar interests and promote awareness of environmental issues. Stay informed of what is happening in your community. Volunteer at a local elementary school or help clean up a stream. You are making a difference!

 Jobs/Career guides

Finding jobs in the emerging green economy. Green job growth has resulted in exploding interest in college degrees and professional green careers in sustainable energy, agriculture, health, law and practically every other segment of the economy. Explore the nation’s top green careers and the road map to landing one – Let’sGoSolar

‘Learn How to Become’ provides this page on a Guide to Green Careers.

Why pursue a green career? Resources and information at

Green graduate degrees – -This guide offers a comprehensive look at those degrees available today for undergraduate students looking to take their green academic careers to the graduate level. Students interested in sustainability will learn about the most popular degree programs offered, how to pay for them, and what career opportunities wait after getting a green education. 
Crash course on going green at college – Affordable Colleges Online provides community resources and tools related to higher education with an eye on affordability and accreditation. link
Other links:
 Linking college degrees to non-profit careers – link

Accredited Schools Online (for U.S. audiences) has just updated their guide to Going Green at School, filled with facts about the benefits of going green, tips on how to become and continue being green, and additional resources for students interested in further pursuing the ultimate objective of living a sustainable life. 
Go Green with Your Degree – link  
Environmental Science Degrees and careers – link

Environmental science degrees. For students looking at the environmental sciences, a web site   constructed by Elena Frost makes the searching simpler. With you no longer have to call up colleges to find out if they specialize in a certain subject without any background knowledge firsthand, all that is required of you is that you give basic information on your location, the degree you want, and your area of study and that is it. Once you’ve entered that into your search criteria you will be prompted with a near endless assortment of schools and degrees that will give you exactly what you need when looking for the essentials to get a job in a very tough but rewarding field of work.

 Links to organizations

The Power Shift Network mobilizes the collective power of young people to mitigate climate change and create a just, clean energy future and resilient, thriving communities for all. link here

Guide to going green at school. Going green doesn’t have to happen only at home. If students have the opportunity to utilize environmentally conscious options while in the school setting, valuable learning can occur. Students can learn the importance of green practices, and they can see how they can implement various green choices at school. Kids who see results of going green may become lifetime champions of this lifestyle. link Their mission is to be the most reliable and expansive advocate for environmental science education and careers. Environmental science is the study of the effects of natural and unnatural processes, and of interactions of the physical components of the planet on the environment. link

The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is a pledge to completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions on campus over time. Universities from all 50 states have signed on to the pledge and many have already made significant strides toward achieving this goal. link

The Alliance for Climate Education – ACE is a leading national organization that delivers free, science-based multimedia presentations on climate change to high-school students. This exciting & engaging presentation meets national science curriculum standards. link

The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a broad network of high school and college-aged youth from across the country working to protect the environment. The SSC is the youth-led chapter of the Sierra Club, the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. Our mission is simple: “to train, empower, and organize youth to run effective campaigns that result in tangible environmental victories and that develop leaders for the environmental movement.” link

 Student Divestment Campaign

June 2014: Oxford University urged to divest – link  
(More on divestment movement in general on this page).

December 2012: Students aim at college portfolios to stop climate change. A divestment campaign aimed at fossil fuel companies has swept college campuses across the country since it began just four weeks ago, catching university presidents by surprise. The effort is the result of a student-led campaign coordinated by, a climate advocacy organization founded by activist Bill McKibben. The goal is to turn global warming action into the moral issue of this generation. “Bottom line, for a college or university, you do not want your institution to be on the wrong side of this issue,” said Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College in Maine. Students at dozens of other universities have sat down with senior administrators and boards of trustees to lobby them to sell holdings in coal, oil and gas companies. Divestment campaigns are now underway at 153 colleges and universities, large and small from coast to coast. The organizers expect to reach 200 after the winter break. link

 What colleges are doing 

July 2016: New campaign launched. A student led petition is launched calling for a shift of $4 billion from oil subsidies to make higher education more affordable for all. link

July 2013: Texas A&M plans huge solar project. The proposed “Center for Solar Energy” at Texas A&M University’s Central Texas branch will make the school the world’s first all-solar university. The university has come up with this innovative project to save power costs and reduce its carbon footprint. It will utilize nearby unused land for the world’s biggest solar test farm. The solar farm will be developed exclusively for solar prototyping and R&D, and not as a commercial farm. As a test farm, it will host hundreds of solar cell designs from various manufacturers. The farm will spread over an area of 800 acres and produce 50MW of power, sufficient to provide 100% of the university’s power requirements, and still have spare power left for about 20,000 homes nearby. link

May 2014: Missouri University transitions from coal to geothermal energy. A World War II-era power plant that has provided energy to much of the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus for nearly seven decades is powering down as the university makes the transition to a geothermal energy system. The power plant, which was constructed in 1945, burned coal and wood chips to provide steam to much of campus for the past 69 years. By fall 2014, Missouri S&T’s geothermal energy system, one of the most comprehensive ever undertaken by a university, will be fully in service. It will provide heating and cooling to 17 buildings on campus and chilled water to the majority of campus buildings. link

August 2011: Small community college in MA goes zero carbon. “We’re one of the few campuses in the country, and perhaps the world, that is approaching zero net energy and zero net carbon, and that’s without buying green energy from another source,” said Ed Terceiro, a former school official who helped lead the wind turbine project at Mount Wachusett Community College in Central Massachusetts. With electricity bills approaching $800,000 annually, school officials decided to reinvent the institution as one focused on renewable energy. Two Vestas wind turbines will power 97% of the school’s energy. link

Greenest U.S. Schools 2017:  Sierra Club’s ‘Cool Schools’ 2017 full ranking. Top four in U.S. north-eastern states. College of the Atlantic in Maine retains top spot. link

Colleges and Universities Ban-the-Bottle campaign. Colleges and universities have been known to consume more plastic bottles annually than most other organizations. Many students and staff dislike this statistic and are taking the stand to bring an end to the sale of bottled water within their campuses. As more and more Colleges and Universities take the steps towards Banning the Bottle, we want to recap and congratulate the schools that have already or are currently working towards Banning the Bottle on their campuses. Take a look at this map which includes a list of the schools that have started a campaign towards Banning the Bottle and those schools who have successfully accomplished the campus-wide bottle ban. link

July 2012: Gen X disengaged on climate change. A University of Michigan report finds that Generation X is lukewarm about climate change – uninformed about the causes and unconcerned about the potential dangers. “Most Generation Xers are surprisingly disengaged, dismissive or doubtful about whether global climate change is happening and they don’t spend much time worrying about it,” said Jon D. Miller, author of The Generation X Report.  “In 2009, about 22% said they followed the issue of climate change very or moderately closely. In 2011, only 16% said they did so.” link   

June 2009: College life may look different in the not-so-distant future with announcements of cost-cutting programs that help sustainability. Hundreds of colleges and universities are turning down their thermostats to save on heating, in programs like “Chill-Out” at Davidson College in North Carolina which also saved $10,000 by switching from bottled water to tap at most college events. Colleges are also installing low-flow shower heads and energy-saving light bulbs and holding contests to see which dorm can most reduce its electricity costs. link

 Students challenge coal on campus 

April 2011A poll from Yale University showed teens had serious misconceptions about the causes of and solutions to climate change, which led some of them to doubt its occurrence, humanity’s involvement in the process or to understand its causes and solutions. In many ways teens showed less understanding of climate change than did adults. Only 25% of American teenagers receive a passing grade on their climate change awareness and understanding, and only about half of teens accurately believe climate change is occurring. Overall, 54% of teens received a failing grade, compared with 46% of adults. Only 6% of teens polled have an A or B level of understanding of climate change, while 41% have C or D grade. link

January 2011: Penn State University moving from coal. One of the biggest universities in one of the U.S’s biggest coal-producing states, Penn State announced that it will transition away from coal-fired power in the next three years, and will invest up to $35 million to convert its on-campus coal-fired steam plant to natural gas by 2014. Officials said that by using natural gas rather than coal the school will lower its carbon emissions by 37%. Eventually, students hope to see the university run entirely on renewable energy. link

November 2010: College campuses continue to leave coal behind. With more than 60 campuses nationwide getting energy from coal plants, student protests and lawsuits over power generation have become a part of college experience. link

 High schools

November 2017: 5,500 schools in U.S. now use solar power. About 5% of all K-12 U.S. schools are now powered by the sun. A new study shows nearly 5,500 schools using solar power today have a total of 910 megawatts of solar capacity, enough to power 190,000 homes. According to the study, the average school solar system is about 300 kilowatts, which is 900 to 1,200 panels. link

February 2012: Green Schools Alliance. K-12 schools in America spend over $8 billion a year on energy. So they’re the perfect place to save money by implementing efficiency, conservation and green building techniques, all while educating students about energy issues. A competition organized by the Green Schools aims to help facilitate that transition. Across the U.S., students of all ages from kindergarten to high school are competing in the Green Cup Challenge (now in its 5th year), a four-week event that encourages schools to cut energy use. Three weeks into the event, one school has cut its electricity consumption by 17% through simple changes in behavior. link
The Green Schools Alliance is global community of schools working together to achieve an environmentally sustainable future.

May 2015: A Pennsylvania high school just made history. George School in Newtown announced that it would divest its $150 million endowment of holdings in coal mining companies, likely becoming the first secondary school in the nation to join the global movement to rid investment portfolios of fossil fuel stocks. The decision was prompted by a student petition. link

March 2013: Man-made climate change to be added to U.S. curriculum. New recommendations are being introduced for educators to teach the evidence for man-made climate change starting as early as elementary school, and incorporate it into all science classes. By eighth grade, students should understand that “human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). This potentially ends an era in which climate skepticism has been allowed to seep into the nation’s classrooms. The ‘Next Generation Science Standards” were developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nonprofit Achieve and more than two dozen states. link