Sustainable Campuses: A Pathway to Success

Sustainability is a common goal for many industries including businesses, universities, agriculture, and even for personal use. When considering reaching the goal of sustainability, universities are usually not what one thinks of. “Green” colleges with sustainable campuses are a rather new topic that is growing increasingly popular. What’s the advantage of sustainable campuses? One may think that the answer lies on the tax breaks the school may get from the government. Yet the focus should remain on the intrinsic values provided by sustainable campuses for the community and the students. Progressive environmental policies are now becoming the norm within many American academic institutions.


Thompson Hall at the University of New Hampshire. Image via Arun Yenumula, Flickr.

Solutions for Sustainable Campuses

An example of a sustainable campus is the University of New Hampshire, located in Durham on the Seacoast of southeastern New Hampshire. According to The Princeton Review, UNH is one of the “greenest” schools in the United States. The Foster Daily Democrat claimed that UNH is “a pioneer for sustainable agriculture” and that the university’s greenhouses “get A-plus for sustainability“. The University of New Hampshire, where I currently attend school, is a great public institution that seeks to reach higher achievements and platforms of sustainability. The university has a positive reputation for its academic rigor as well as its jaw-droppingly beautiful campus, but what makes UNH such a special school with a mindset for sustainability?

Climate Action Plan

Under the WildCAP Plan, the university will reduce its emissions to almost zero and secure its leadership role in climate change mitigation. Under WildCAP, UNH will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020, 80% by 2050, and potentially could reach carbon neutrality by 2100.

UNH’s EcoLine project located on campus that is connected to the Rochester Landfill. Image via CT Green Schools.

Cogeneration and the EcoLine System

Much of the energy used at the University of New Hampshire comes from a local landfill in Rochester, New Hampshire. There are two systems used  to create energy. The EcoLine system processes methane gas from the landfill and converts it into usable energy. By doing this, the university saves money on electricity while lowering its carbon footprint drastically. The second system, the cogeneration plant (COGEN), cost the university about $28 million with a payback period of 20 years. The cogeneration plant retains waste heat usually lost during the creation of electricity and instead uses this energy to heat buildings. By doing this, there is a reduction in sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. The cogeneration plant also estimates a greenhouse gas reduction of about 21% per academic year.

The EcoLine system cost UNH $49 million with a payback period of 10 years. The system contains a 12.9 mile pipeline that connects to the landfill in Rochester. Also, the EcoLine project creates enough power that it’s able to sell Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to other universities and businesses, which creates more revenue and helps promote sustainability beyond the campus. UNH has decreased its reliance on fossil fuels and is leading the nation by issuing a “landmark step towards sustainability” according to UNH President, Mark Huddleston.

A green roof is featured on top of Holloway Commons at UNH

A green roof is featured on top of Holloway Commons at UNH.

Green Infrastructure

Many of UNH’s buildings, such as Holloway Commons (a dining area) and James Hall (a natural resources academic building) contain green roofs. Green roofs help reduce stormwater runoff by the absorption of water, provide aesthetic appeal by adding natural green space to the community, and help in carbon sequestering. The university is also home to a stormwater research center where sustainable stormwater management is conducted by using retention ponds, vegetated swales, and rain barrels. On Main Street, by the campus’s center, porous pavement is used to reduce flooding and runoff rates.

Cleaner Transportation

To discourage the overuse of personal vehicles on campus, UNH is an extremely bike-friendly community with multiple bike racks by every building and even a bike lane devoted to cyclists only. UNH also expanded its sidewalks to make walking to class easier and ensuring the safety of those in the community. The university uses biodiesel and natural gas buses which promote low-emissions and a more efficient way of traveling.

The standards for low-emissions are demonstrated at the University of New Hampshire

Low-emission standards demonstrated at University of New Hampshire. Image via

Sustainable Food Options

At UNH, food is a big deal. UNH is rated high on the best dining experiences at a university. Besides the diverse and multicultural selections that is provided, many organic and humane options are available. Everything in the dining halls are either USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, or Certified Humane. For instance, the university’s dining halls use cage-free eggs, which promotes sustainable farming practices. Stonyfield Yogurt, an organic yogurt company based locally in New Hampshire, is established in each dining hall. Most of the food comes from local   companies and farms, supporting clean agriculture and local economies. The university provides students with Harvest Dinner, which is the collaboration of many local businesses’ organic and natural foods that are donated. UNH is also home to the UNH Dairy Bar which naturally produces food and ice cream. The dairy products comes from an on-campus farm, where organic agricultural practices are used. The Dairy Bar’s food, such as salads and sandwiches, contain locally-grown fresh ingredients.

College Woods Greenhouses

The University of New Hampshire is home to College Woods, which comprises of 250 acres of campus land. College Woods contains woods, streams, and small fields where lab and field work are conducted, recreation occurs, and positive environmental impact happens. Since UNH is a research university, many of the life sciences and natural resources programs perform research in College Woods, which enhances the students’ learning experiences by receiving hands-on training. College Woods is home to ample biodiversity and helps the university reduce its carbon footprint by sequestering much of the carbon produced on campus.

The university is also home to the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses, which provides ample research opportunities to horticulture and soil science majors. The many greenhouses allow for  “highly controlled environments for a diversity of research projects, including ornamental and food crop breeding, sustainable ornamental plant nutrition and development, biological pest control, bioremediation, extensive studies of plant genetic diversity in strawberry and mint”. Kingman Farm, Fairchild Dairy, Organic Dairy Research Farm, and the Woodman Horticulture Research Farm are all owned by the university and accessible to all UNH students.

Feature Image: An aerial view of the University of New Hampshire. Image via

About The Author

Katelyn is an undergraduate student at the University of New Hampshire studying Environmental Conservation & Sustainability and Community Planning. Her passions are green urban design and planning, sustainable energy, green real estate, ecotourism, and environmental policy. She hopes to obtain a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning.