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Environmental Sustainability in Higher Education: How to Stand Out and Grow

The EvoLLLution | Environmental Sustainability in Higher Education: How to Stand Out and Grow
A commitment to environmental sustainability can help institutions bring students in and stand out from the crowd.

One of the fastest changing fields in higher education is environmental sustainability.

Universities, community colleges and vocational institutes are creating innovative programs to accommodate an influx of learners who are interested in renewable energy, waste management and water conservation technologies. Furthermore, today’s students are becoming increasingly attracted to organizations that embrace a green culture, image and vision.

As such, higher education administrators should recognize the academic and economic benefits of creating and implementing sustainability programs at their institutions.

Workforce Demand for Graduates with Sustainability Education

Renewable energy industries are growing and will continue to expand globally in the next fifty years. In order to stay competitive in the global education market, higher education leaders must revamp their academic structures in order to support an inflow of students who are interested in sustainability careers. The steady growth of renewable energy jobs will require higher education establishments to train an expansive class of workers who are adept in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Graduates who possess the skills to fix a wind turbine, install a solar panel or build a vertical garden will remain in high demand for the foreseeable future.

Higher education institutions can also benefit financially by partnering with businesses that specialize in the production of efficient sustainability systems. Recently, universities have employed high-tech businesses to replace coal-fired power plants with geothermal plants and wind farms. Several American universities have also contracted businesses to install solar farms in order to offset energy consumption costs. By incorporating sustainable technologies into the infrastructure of the institution, higher education establishments can conduct groundbreaking research, create viable jobs and lower utility costs.

Marketing Value

Going green can help an institution stand out from the crowd and differentiate itself in the highly competitive and homogenous postsecondary marketplace. On-campus solar panels and wind turbines publically demonstrate that an institution can utilize cutting edge machinery. These technologies also convey to students that the institution is ecologically conscious and willing to adapt to cultural and industrial trends. As a response to these realizations, higher education establishments are overhauling their renewable energy portfolios in order to attract learners.

It is also important to note that government and private groups set consumption and waste standards for public and private institutes. Higher education institutions that successfully meet those standards can gain legitimate recognition for their efforts. Education leaders can strategically market their achievements to draw in prospective students. Additionally, higher education leaders can leverage their institutions’ sustainability accomplishments to gain a competitive advantage over other schools. For instance, a college that grows forty percent of its cafeteria food in urban gardens will be able to entice students with fresh produce. Similarly, a university that can cut tuition by installing a geothermal plant will have the competitive edge. From an enrollment standpoint, higher education leaders should recognize that institutions without credible sustainability departments or technologies will be disadvantaged and outranked by establishments that prioritize an environmentally sustainable culture.


The future success of any higher education institution will depend on its relationship with the environment. As new industries emerge, educators must enlarge and upgrade their environmental sustainability programs to welcome a growing class of learners interested in a sustainable lifestyle. By adopting environmentally sustainable practices, institutions can save money, gain recognition and better serve their students.

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