Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is one of the nation’s most environmentally responsible colleges or universities, according to The Princeton Review. Coming in at No. 32, FGCU was the only school in Florida to make the “Top 50 Green Colleges” list, outranking Virginia Tech, Michigan State University, Emerson College, New York University and Arizona State University, among others. Outside of the top 50 ranked colleges and universities, an additional 366 are featured in “The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges: 2021 Edition.”
“One reason FGCU scores so highly and has made this list is because we do an exceptional job of preparing our students to be leaders in sustainability, regardless of their career or major,” said Jennifer Jones, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental studies and director of FGCU’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education.
Educational initiatives, such as University Colloquium, introduce students to the complexities of developing the sustainable societal patterns each will face as they launch their careers. University Colloquium is an introduction to sustainability that is a graduation requirement of every FGCU undergraduate student. Faculty members from every college as well as members of the community join students from all majors for discussion in the classroom and experiential learning in the community.
“Sustainability was part of FGCU’s mission and vision from the day it opened its doors. In 1997, University Colloquium was a big way, a systemic way, to address that mission,” said Brenda Thomas, the program’s director. “The course has evolved with the environmental movement to focus on sustainability more broadly, including social and economic sustainability as well as environmental sustainability.”
Beyond University Colloquium, approximately 30 percent of FGCU’s classes have sustainability embedded in them. That effort is further developed through the Integrating Sustainability Across the Curriculum (ISAC) Academy. The ISAC Academy provides time, space and resources for faculty at all career stages across the university to engage in inter- and cross-disciplinary discussions for sustainability curriculum development.
In recent years, FGCU has doubled down on its environmental commitment. Building on two decades of proven academic excellence in water-related research and initiatives — as well as in business, health and engineering — the university officially launched The Water School in March 2019. The school brings disciplines from across campus together to focus on one subject: water.
“Through The Water School, we offer a number of degrees that very obviously focus on issues of environment and sustainability,” Jones said. “But beyond that, other academic units, such as the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, incorporate aspects of sustainability. We’ve watched as entrepreneurship majors have created ‘green’ businesses, not to mention ‘green’ products for the market. We also see sustainable projects in the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering, among others.”
Outside campus, FGCU’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education expands the university’s “green” footprint. The center works to improve the health and well-being of communities and the planet through environmental know-how, access to outdoor learning and expanding the conversation for policymaking. Among its programs is a yearlong water-focused training for Lee County K-12 teachers and an eight-week watershed afterschool program for primary, middle and high school students.
The center also gives FGCU students and faculty members the opportunity to apply for Student Associates for a Greener Environment (SAGE) mini-grants. The money is used to create innovative educational research projects. Those projects must promote ecological literacy, encourage civic engagement and further scholarly activity, teaching and service related to environmental issues.
“In addition to academics, student engagement in sustainability supports our ranking,” said Kathleen Crawford, FGCU’s sustainability manager.
There’s a student club called Recycling 2.0 dedicated to improving recycling on campus. FGCU’s student government has a sustainability director. Plus, numerous service-learning opportunities for students have sustainability components. Among these is the opportunity to work in the campus’ Food Forest, which is a student-run botanical garden with tropical and subtropical edible species that grow well in Southwest Florida. The Food Forest is designed to enhance awareness of sustainable food production and whole food nutrition.
“We strongly recommend Florida Gulf Coast University to students who want to study and live at a green college,” said Rob Franek, The Princeton Review’s editor-in-chief.
With 400 acres of protected nature and many LEED-certified buildings, FGCU is a living environmental lab with sustainability at its core. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a “green” building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. Beyond the numerous structures on campus with LEED distinction, FGCU has committed to achieving a silver certification or higher on all new constructions.
How FGCU powers its buildings is also important. An on-campus 15-acre solar photovoltaic array produces approximately 85 percent of the energy needed to operate Holmes, Lutgert and Seidler halls.
“In addition to the energy that comes from solar voltaics, we also have avoided energy costs that isn’t counted in toward these rankings. An example is the geothermal heating and cooling of our swimming pool in South Village and our athletic pools. Another is our solar thermal panels that heat the water for residential students in South Village,” Crawford said.
For more information about “The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges: 2021 Edition,” the top 50 list or the way rankings are determined, visit The Princeton Review’s website.