IN SEARCH OF AMERICA'S GREENEST SCHOOLS
A mom, her college-bound daughter and the 2017 C-MAX Energi explore the ways campus sustainability initiatives are giving “Ivy” League a whole new meaning.
By Lisa Stiepock | Photographs by Andy Ryan
My daughter, Alcy, is all about being green, albeit in that self-serve-buffet way teenagers have of being sincerely passionate about causes while recognizing the need for, say, long showers, multiple hairstyling implements and subzero air conditioning.
She was far more militant about eco causes in elementary school, putting notes on (occupied!) cars at her school dictating NO IDLING ZONE and deciding to be a vegetarian for political reasons at age 9.
While Alcy is kinder and gentler about sharing her eco-opinions now, she still believes in the cause enough that, newly minted driver's license in hand, she suggested a mother-daughter road trip to explore some of the greenest colleges in a suitably eco-conscious vehicle. Our car choice to test-drive is easy: the new 2017 Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid. We love that we can charge up at a campus station or any 120-volt outlet, and that with the touch of a button on the C-MAX Energi, we can switch modes—among electric, gas, and various gas/electric combos.
For our school choices, we narrow down the options according to the latest Green Lists from the Sierra Club and the Princeton Review. Our goal? Four schools, three states, two days—and as little gas as possible.
WILLIAMS COLLEGE IN WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS.
The trip from our home in Connecticut to the northwest corner of Massachusetts basically amounts to mountain climbing. But Alcy's having fun trying to drive efficiently and add leaves to the display (the car's SmartGauge® with EcoGuide tells us when our driving habits are most energy efficient) on the ups, downs and few and far between straightaways.
As we pass a sign that reads PURPLE VALLEY, we drive into what seems to be the heart of both Williams College and Williamstown just as the sunset is casting a purple haze on the surrounding mountains—as if in confirmation of that sign. It's almost absurd how quintessentially New England this place is. Nestled within the Berkshire mountains, there are white spires and green rolling hills everywhere you look.
Of all the things that rank Williams high on environmentally friendly lists, the one we find most fascinating is an academic program called WilliamsMystic, a partnership with Mystic Seaport that takes students to the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coastlines for a semester. Part of the study takes place on a tall ship where students "learn the ropes" of marine biology, seamanship, maritime history, the science of climate change and more, says Richard King, who teaches the program's "Literature of the Sea" course.
SMITH COLLEGE IN NORTHAMPTON, MASS.
The drive to Northampton takes us in spectacular fashion from the mountains into the foothills of the Berkshires. The C-MAX Energi handles the curves and climbs, the clips and dives with aplomb, and Alcy and I are loving the cow and horse farms everywhere. Smith is a women's college, and the sign that greets us as we enter the city's parking garage reads: NORTHAMPTON—WHERE THE COFFEE IS STRONG AND SO ARE THE WOMEN. I'll start with the coffee.
It's a short walk up the hill to the Smith campus, which is basically a huge garden studded with beautiful brick buildings. Our guides tell us proudly that Smith is perpetually on the Princeton Review's prestigious Green College Honor Roll, that there's an organic community garden on campus and that the place has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030.
A pair of students tells us their favorite thing about Smith is Bicycle Kitchen—a student organization right on campus that not only rents and repairs bikes but also holds bike-repair workshops. You can follow a bike path over the Connecticut River all the way into Amherst.
The school's director of sustainability Dano Weisbord is a big advocate. Weisbord returned to Smith after an at-times remote stint with the development group ActionAid. “I didn’t have a car for four years,” says Weisbord, "so I learned that biking is fun."
Not missing a manipulative beat, Alcy tells me the biking would be great but "I'll still need a car so I can come see you on weekends."
Northampton also has plenty of charging stations, including one at our hotel, which malces charging our car as easy as our phones.
HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE IN AMHERST, MASS.
It's only a 20-minute drive to Hampshire College, which has serious green cred, being well on its way to meeting its oft-stated goal of being the first residential college in the U.S. to go 100% solar. We meet our student guide Lindsay Moon at the impressive new R.W. Kern Center, which is beginning certification as a Living Building, meaning that it has to prove it can generate its own electricity, collect its own water for a year, and was built with nontoxic locally sourced materials. It also serves food (thumbs-up to the blackberry scones) from the campus's own farm, a 10-minute walk from the center of campus.
The farm sells meat and vegetable shares to students, faculty and staff, and much of the food goes to the student cafeteria. "The farm is our biggest work-study student employer," says Beth Hooker, director of Food, Farm and Sustainability here. It's a full-circle process—except for the composting, which Hooker says they contract to a neighboring farm in part because they got tired of dealing with the "silverware issue."
Before I can ask what she means, as if on cue, another touring parent reaches into the soil and pulls out a bent fork. On our way out, Hooker asks if she can sit in the C-MAX Energi because she's wanting to trade in her diesel for a new hybrid and thinks this will be the one.
BROWN UNIVERSITY IN PROVIDENCE, R.I.
At Hampshire, Hooker may have ogled our car, but here we find ourselves delayed because a woman in the parking lot stops to tell us about how much more she loves her husband's C-MAX than her own hybrid ("It's so comfortable, and the pickup is great, and he hardly has to put gas in his car!"†). Indeed, all the gauges in our C-MAX Energi still read full or near full, so we head for the campus.
The Institute at Brown for Environment and Society lets students explore "interactions between natural, human and social systems" in the classroom, across many disciplines, and in the field (China, the Arctic and the Providence statehouse, among others).
Across its entire campus, Brown takes its green seriously; recently, two of its dining facilities became the first 3-star green-certified eateries in the state, due to everything from locally sourced food to sending nearly all organic material to a composting facility. The university also installed trash cans with solarpowered compressors and GPS technology to send alerts when the bins are full.
Alcy is impressed, and Bob Chase—Sustainability Manager for Brown's Dining Services—thinks other millennials will be, too: "This could be a differentiator, because people are starting to demand that their products, their companies, their schools and their governments are more sustainable!”