Learning and Leading a Sustainable Path

Students take notes in their biology class on top of Whiteface Mountain as part of their required curriculum.

By: Norah Machia

     This year’s graduating class at St. Lawrence University, Canton, will mark the first group of students that have fulfilled the college’s environmental literacy curriculum requirement.

      In 2013, the college incorporated environmental literacy as a requirement for all students to graduate. There are currently 79 courses that have been approved by the faculty to meet that requirement, said Ryan Deuel, SLU director of media relations.

      They cover a wide range of subject areas, including anthropology, art, African studies, biology, chemistry, environmental studies, economics, English, geology, global studies, history, philosophy, physics and sociology, he said.    

     “This requirement is for all St. Lawrence University students, regardless of their major,” Mr. Deuel said. 

     As part of these courses, students must demonstrate an understanding of issues such as the consequences of human activities on natural systems. They must also demonstrate an awareness of the cultural, economic and political forces that affect environmental policies, and an understanding of natural systems and the impacts they can have on the environment, human life, health and welfare, he said.

     The environmental literacy graduation requirement is one of several initiatives taken by St. Lawrence University in recent years that helped it earn a spot in the 2016 edition of “Princeton Review Guide to 361 Green Colleges.” 

     Clarkson University and the SUNY Potsdam were also listed in the 2016 edition.  The Princeton Review developed the “Green Rating” for each school to recognize both student-driven and school initiatives that focus on environmental issues and sustainable practices.

     The Princeton Review’s “Green Colleges” edition was started after the company conducted a survey of college applicants during the 2007-08 school year. On that survey, many prospective students indicated that a school’s commitment to the environment was one factor that could impact their decision about attending a particular school.

    Sustainability on college campuses is important because “colleges train the next generation of leaders who will ultimately be responsible for putting green ideas into practice,” the 2016 report stated. 

Adirondack Semester
Goldsworthy Projects

     “St. Lawrence’s culture of sustainability extends from academics to co-curricular activities to university operations,” Mr. Deuel said.

     The college also offers additional student programs that focus on protection and conservation of natural resources. For more than a decade, St. Lawrence has offered “a unique off-campus learning experience” through its Adirondack Semester, Mr. Deuel said.

     The program enables students to study nature and human relationships with nature while living in a yurt village “off the grid” deep in the Adirondack Park, he said.

       “Anyone can sign up for the ADK semester, again regardless of major,” he said. “In fact, the ADK semester is considered a domestic off-campus study program and treated much like a study abroad experience.”

      In addition, the college’s Department of Environmental Studies offers stand-alone and combined degrees that focus on sustainability, while the conservation biology major places a major focus on protection of the world’s biodiversity. SLU students can also gain leadership experience and course credit through the college’s Outdoor Program.

     St. Lawrence University’s effort to protect the environment also includes brick and mortar projects, such as the construction of the first science building in New York state to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The national certification is designated for buildings that use resources more efficiently and offer healthier workspaces.

     The Princeton Review notes that Johnson Hall of Science, built in 2007, was the first LEED Gold-certified science building in the state, meeting the building requirements set by the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition, the college’s Kirk Douglas Hall (a residence hall), opened in 2014 and has 24 geothermal wells for heating and cooling.

       St. Lawrence University also has made commitments that ensure more than 95 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources, including long-term agreements with hydro and solar facilities that will supply the campus with clean and renewable energy for decades, Mr. Deuel said.   

   Clarkson University has initiated several sustainability programs and environmental initiatives in recent years.

     Clarkson offers students many opportunities to learn how to integrate sustainability concepts into their lives and professions through a variety of curricular and extra-curricular programs, according to the school’s website.

     The university has a number of “convention-defying” environmental initiatives, including an anaerobic digester to convert food waste to energy and fertilizer, and installation of a 2-megawatt solar photovoltaic system on campus to meet state renewable energy goals.

     Sustainability concepts are covered in more than 250 courses offered to Clarkson students through the majority of academic departments, according to the university. Students can also focus on sustainability by participating in the school’s Adirondack Semester, or completing a minor in sustainable energy systems engineering or sustainable solutions for the developing world.

     Some past student projects supported through the school’s Sustainability Fund have included the creation of a student-run campus vegetable garden, along with new solid waste receptacles and a plan to better manage waste on campus, according to the school’s website. Another project focused on the development of micro-financed tree nurseries in Uganda for carbon dioxide sequestration.   



              In 2012, Clarkson University’s new Student Center building received LEED Silver certification, due to its state-of-the-art construction processes, energy efficiency and innovation in design.     

    SUNY Potsdam established a sustainability and operations coordinator position a few years ago to focus on campus initiatives.

     The school’s dining services have been involved in composting waste, buying local food and eliminating plastic items. They also take all used fry oil and donate it to a local farmer to utilize as biodiesel fuel, according to the school’s website.

    In past years, the college installed 150 energy-efficient washers and dryers and replaced all incandescent light bulbs on campus with more efficient fluorescent ones.

     In 2013, the college opened its new Performing Arts Center, which houses the school’s Department of Theatre and Dance, and connects to The Crane School of Music. The 97,000-square-foot facility includes a 350-seat proscenium theater, a 200-seat black box theater and a 200-seat dance performance hall.

     The Performing Arts Center signaled SUNY Potsdam’s continued commitment to sustainability, according to its website. The building’s construction met the requirements necessary to achieve a LEED Silver certification.

    Sustainable features of the performing arts center include a sophisticated building insulation system, along with a mechanical system that maximizes energy efficiency throughout the year, according to the website.     

    For more information about the Princeton Review’s survey, visit www.princetonreview.com/green-guide.