Earth Day Arrives on College Campuses

Sustainability and conservation are big themes on college campuses this spring.


Earth Day, held annually on April 22, is meant to spark awareness and appreciation for the Earth and inspire discussions on sustainability and conservation. While people around the globe may simply recycle cans or use alternative forms of transportation to honor this holiday, many colleges strive to do more.

Rather than cramming a bevy of sustainability-centric initiatives into a single day, some schools are scheduling weeks of events and activities. Wake Forest University, for example, launched "13 Days of Celebrating the Earth" on April 14, allowing students to participate in a multitude of environmentally conscious endeavors, such as a cardboard boat race and tours of local farms and gardens.

[Check out photos of 10 college campuses getting creative for Earth Day.]

The extended schedules give colleges flexibility when coordinating events, and schools hope that a variety of offerings will imprint the importance of sustainability in students' minds, says Dedee DeLongpré Johnston, director of sustainability at Wake Forest.

"The opportunity is that college students are in a learning mode right now," says Johnston. "They are learning critical-thinking skills, and the most important thing we need to impart about sustainability is to think critically about all the information that is coming our way."

While colleges may have ambitious goals, it won't make a difference on a large scale if the message doesn't spread past campus, says Chris O'Brien, director of sustainability at American University. "Even if every university in the country adopted every green policy they could, it still wouldn't be enough," says O'Brien. "It's people who have to also make changes in their own expectations and lifestyles, and we have to do both of those together."

[Read about 5 unique ways to go green in your dorm room.]

Earth Day began in 1970 with the intention of celebrating the Earth's natural environment, but much of the conversation has turned to what people need to change in order to conserve and protect that environment. While these discussions are necessary, it's vital we honor the successes we have made, says Johnston.

"I think that sometimes the perils facing our world can seem so overwhelming in a negative way," she says. "It's really nice to talk about things in a very positive light and talk about the things that we are doing together. It's an opportunity to celebrate."

How is your college marking Earth Day? Visit our Best Colleges Facebook page and share your school's events with us.