Students want more support as CSU earns high ranks for sustainability

Samantha Ye

Colorado State University now has a slate of rankings to back-up their reputation of sustainability, but some students wish the University’s actions would do the same.

CSU has earned a host of high sustainability rankings this year, including first place for public engagement and second place for campus engagement in the 2018 Sustainable Campus Index, fourth place in the Sierra Club’s official magazine “Cool Schools” ranking and placement on The Princeton Review’s 2019 Green Honor Roll.


The Princeton Review, the SCI and the Sierra Magazine collaborate to streamline the types of data schools need to collect and submit for these rankings.

Most of that data can be found in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System report, from which CSU is currently one of only four institutions worldwide to hold a platinum rating.

Higher ed institutions compete for students. We know our students appreciate the efforts we are making toward improving sustainability on campus.”-Carol Dollard, CSU energy engineer

“The underlying STARS ranking helps to highlight areas where we shine (and) areas where we have room for growth,” wrote Carol Dollard, CSU energy engineer, in an email to The Collegian. “Higher ed institutions compete for students. We know our students appreciate the efforts we are making toward improving sustainability on campus.”

Although the rankings are concerned with the processes of the University, they also look closely at how students interact with campus sustainability initiatives. 

At CSU, the University especially values and supports student involvement when it comes to making the campus green, according to Dollard and Tonie Miyamoto, co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Commission.

“Students are telling us that sustainability is important to them, so it’s important to do it, measure it and then share the results,” Miyamoto said.

CSU’s commitment to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, for example, was a student-led initiative. So were the idea to make the campus bee certified, to allow the University to consider fair-trade production in their purchasing and to develop the campus ski bus.

“That’s probably my favorite part of my job is to have students who are really passionate and have great ideas, and seeing those ideas funnel into proposals and then pilot projects and permanent systems on campus,” Miyamoto said. “I think on our campus, students really feel empowered.”

Of course, student-led means initatives develop from the bottom-up, and those initiatives come with their own hurdles.

girl standing beside compost, trash recycling bins
Maggie Gilman, founder of the Zero Waste Team, stands besides the various waste disposal bins at the Ag Day Picnic. The brown bin is for compostable materials which include the disposable utensils and dishware the ZWT has helped Colorado State University obtain for their events. The ZWT organizes and educates people at events on how to sort their waste. (Samantha Ye | Collegian)

“I think it definitely takes some effort to be involved in environmental institutional change on a college campus, and it’s hard for a university to make it easy,” said Maggie Gilman, founder of the Zero Waste Team.


Gilman pointed to the lack of a central sustainability department at CSU leading to dispersed, department-based efforts which students cannot easily tap into.

Hank Stowers, a fellow ZWT member and director of health for the student body on the Associated Students of CSU, said forming even the ZWT has been an uphill battle. Although the University has not been their enemy, they have not always provided the resources necessary to seriously take care of their waste.

We’ve had to recognize that CSU is a space for us and we have to take the responsibility to use that space in a way that we see fit.” -Hank Stowers, Zero Waste Team member

For example, Gilman said CSU purchases many compostable materials, creating a “facade” of low-waste, but provides few compost receptacles. A compostable cup sent to a landfill will break down no better than a normal, biodegradable cup, a waste of the ingenuity which went into making it compostable.

The ZWT now collaborates with University events, including home football games, to provide compostable materials and waste sorting, and they are also working on providing basic compost bins in every campus building. Their efforts were even lauded in the 2018 Sierra ranking.

Sierra “Cool Schools” Ranking (Top 10 out of 20)

  1. University of California, Irvine
  2. Green Mountain College
  3. University of New Hampshire
  4. University of Connecticut
  5. Colorado State University
  6. Arizona State University
  7. Dickinson College
  8. University of Massachusetts
  9. Amherst Seattle University
  10. California State University
  11. Chico Middlebury College

Ultimately, the most important initiatives are being taken on by students, Stowers said.

“We’ve had to recognize that CSU is a space for us and we have to take the responsibility to use that space in a way that we see fit,” Stowers said.

Luckily, CSU’s sustainability promotions bring in students who are passionate about environmental issues. Many students say the University’s sustainability efforts actually influenced their decision to choose CSU, Miyamoto said.

It has contributed to a good community and culture of environmental awareness on campus, Stowers said, and if CSU wants to fulfill the image of sustainability they present, they need to start giving more support to student-led sustainability organizations.

“They need to stop working within their own bureaucracy and start giving students the power to take the charge on that,” Stowers said. “Because we’re the generation that’s going to be impacted so we know what matters the most.”

2018 Sustainable Campus Index Rankings (CSU)

Impact Area 2018 Placing 2018 Score (%)
Public Engagement First 97.6%
Campus Engagement Second 98.8%
Research Third 100%
Curriculum Eighth 94.4%
Purchasing Tenth 88.7%


Overall, CSU placed fourth for top performing doctoral institutions.

Samantha Ye can be reached at or on Twitter @samxye4.