Top 20 Small Sustainable Colleges Ranked by Affordability

Sustainable Colleges

Key Takeaways:

  • Our #1 pick for top small sustainable colleges is Chatham University, followed by Aquinas College.
  • Sustainability in colleges is essential for fostering a healthier environment, creating educational and research opportunities, achieving economic savings, and fulfilling social responsibilities.
  • Colleges that prioritize sustainability can integrate these practices into their curriculum, preparing students to address environmental challenges in their future careers.
  • Colleges can set an example for their communities by demonstrating a commitment to sustainable practices and encouraging local businesses and residents to follow suit.
  • Sustainability initiatives can engage students in meaningful activities that promote social responsibility and community involvement.

The importance of sustainability initiatives will continue to increase for prospective college students because, in addition to demonstrating earth care, sustainable colleges are pleasant places to study and offer proof of forward-thinking administration.

We started with institutions that have under 2,000 undergraduate students enrolled and that have already been recognized for sustainability in The Princeton Review’s 2015 Guide to 353 Green Colleges. This resulting pool of 64 schools was then further filtered according to their STARS Rating (Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). Colleges and universities voluntarily take this assessment as a way of measuring their progress in sustainability initiatives. To be included on our list, schools had to score either a Gold, Silver, or Bronze ranking. Finalists were then ordered by average net price according to College Navigator.

Featured Programs

These 20 finalists offer students great concern for sustainability without sacrificing the intimacy of the small college experience.


Top Sustainability Colleges

The logo for Scripps College which has an all-female student body20. Scripps College – Claremont, CA

Scripps College Sustainability Website

The all-female student body of about 1000 at Scripps College enjoys an enviable emphasis on sustainability everywhere on its Southern California campus. Scripps has made sustainability tangible to its community through an edible campus landscape producing 22 varieties of edible plants, including oranges, figs, and pomegranates. This edible focus has even led to the production of Scripps’ very own olive oil. Removing a significant amount of grass from campus avoids unnecessary watering and saves the College a potential $12,000 per year.

STARS rating: Bronze
Net Price: $57,188

The logo for Goucher College which offers a great Environmental Studies major19. Goucher College – Baltimore, MD

Goucher College Sustainability Website

Goucher College not only offers an Environmental Studies major — every student is required to take interdisciplinary courses related to environmental issues. Forward-thinking administration members have aimed to reduce the College’s greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020. All renovation and new construction on campus must be LEED certified, and the stunning new Athenaeum is a gold-rated LEED building housing a library and performance center.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $47,200

18. – Mills College – Oakland, CA

Mills College Sustainability Website

With less than 1,000 undergraduates (all of whom are women), Mills College offers a small California college experience where sustainability matters. Campus fare is delicious and healthy thanks to the sourcing of food locally and organically as much as possible. The website consistenly ranks Mills’ food among the best in the nation among colleges. The Gaia House (pictured) is the center of operations for the College’s botanical gardens, as well as a place of dialogue on sustainable initiatives for the College community.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $30,770

17. Southwestern University – Georgetown, TX

Southwestern University Sustainability Website

The logo for South western university which is one of the best sustainability colleges

Southwestern is a private liberal arts college chartered in 1840, making it the oldest institution of higher education in the State of Texas. The Environmental Protection Agency has named Southwestern the Green Power Champion in its conference for the fifth year in a row. This award reflects the University’s 100% green power usage, which is purchased from the City of Georgetown. Green power means energy coming from sustainable sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. But students have also gotten into the act — helping compost 90% of compostable materials in dining services, and eating without the help of trays to save water since 2009.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $25,635

16. The logo for Sewanee which is a top sustainability college– Sewanee The University of the South – Sewanee, TN

Sewanee Sustainability Website

Episcopal church-owned Sewanee boasts a campus of 13,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. This massive land area known as “The Domain” is home to a significant amount of sustainability research and testing, ranging from old-growth forest conservation to watershed science. Future plans to expand the University Farm include raising small livestock and cultivating edible landscapes. Sewanee has encouraged students to take sustainability pledges like those pictured above.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $45,120

The logo for Unity College which is one of the most sustainable colleges15. Unity College – Unity, ME

Unity College Sustainability Website

Unity calls itself America’s Environmental College, and is unique in our ranking in that all of its degree offerings focus on the environment or natural resources. The result is a large percentage of alumni working in energy conservation, wilderness recreation, and land management. Unity College is located near the city of Bangor and the beautiful Maine coast. There a small but growing student body of less than 600 students finds it easy to love the environment of 225 acres of fields and forests overlooking Unity Pond.

STARS rating: Gold
Net Price: $12,640

14. Bard College – Annandale-On-Hudson, NY

The logo for bard college which is one of the most sustainable colleges

Bard College is boldly aiming for carbon neutrality by 2035. But there is much to do about sustainability in the meantime on this beautiful overlooking the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains of New York. Students get their hands dirty in local food production at the College Farm, selling produce to dining services. All first-year students take the Citizen Course on environmental issues, and can enrol in entire programs in Sustainability at the undergraduate, graduate, and dual-degree levels. And since 2005, students and faculty have helped reduce campus waste by 30%.

STARS rating: Gold
Net Price: $56,036

The logo for Beloit College13. Beloit College – Beloit, WI

Beloit College Sustainability Website

Beloit is a private liberal arts college founded in 1846 that pursues not only a sustainable campus, but also sustainably-minded students for the environmental challenges of the coming years. The annual three-week recycling competition pits campus residences against each other in an effort to teach how and what to recycle in the region. Beloit’s Pathways to Sustainability Leadership Program encourages small teams to develop new initiatives that will encourage institutional sustainability at the grassroots level.

STARS rating: Bronze
Net Price: $53,348

12. Green Mountain College – Poultney, VT

Green Mountain College Sustainability Website

The logo for Green Mountain College which has one of the top college sustainability programs

Green Mountain College might have a small student body, but it is a major player on the college sustainability scene. Becoming one of the very first campuses to go carbon neutral was in large part a student initiative. When students recognized the carbon output of the College’s fuel-oil heating plant, administration approved the move to biomass heating with locally harvested woodchips. This plant now meets 85% of Green Mountain’s heating needs. Not satisfied with this accomplishment, the school has pledged to adopt 100% renewable energy by 2020.

STARS rating: Gold
Net Price: $29,316

The logo for Haverford College which has a top sustainable colleges	11. Haverford College – Haverford, PA

Haverford College Sustainability Website

Haverford College has greened their campus down to the nitty-gritty of everyday life, of which dining services is just one example.  Waste has been reduced by eliminating trays and implementing reusable ceramic dishware. Scraps are composted before and after food sales. But sustainability is also economic. All coffee is fair trade; all employees are paid above minimum wage; local meat, dairy, and vegetable sourcing is maximized in the interest of prospering the community.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $59,162

The logo for Bowdown which one of the most sustainable colleges10. Bowdoin College – Brunswick, ME

Bowdoin College Sustainability Website

Bowdoin, a top-ranking private liberal arts college founded in 1794, boasts a small student body (less than 2000 undergraduates) and a low student-faculty ratio (9:1). The school recently made a significant sustainability move when it had SolarCity Corp. install solar panels on many of its campus buildings, producing over 1.2 million kWh in the first year and  yielding 8% of the school’s overall needs. Another significant building accomplishment was the construction of the nation’s first newly-constructed ice hockey arena to be LEED-certified.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $56,350

The logo for Earlham which is one of the best small colleges9. Earlham College – Richmond, IN

Earlham College Sustainability Website

Founded in 1847, Earlham is a private liberal arts college in the Quaker tradition. The board of directors invested $3.5 million to reduce energy consumption by 25% through the updating of fixtures and heating/cooling systems, which will reduce greenhouse gas emission by 3,500 metric tons. Students are directly involved in sustainable landscape design and the care of trees on campus. Earlham has a particular interest to save as many of its ash trees as possible from the destructive emerald ash borer.

STARS rating: Bronze
Net Price: $48,091

Eastern Mennonite University8. Eastern Mennonite University – Harrisonburg, VA

Eastern Mennonite University Sustainability Website

Eastern Mennonite, with around 1200 undergraduates, approches sustainability from the Christian perspective of caring for the creation. And evidence of this caring abounds all over campus life. Several dorms are gold-level LEED-certified. The school was named a bicycle-friendly university in 2012, and the recycling program is actually run by bicycle. In 2010 the University installed the largest solar array in the State of Virginia. The campus offers five gardens and edible landscaping tended by students and staff. Caring for the creation in an ongoing way is integrated throughout the curriculum, and students can even major in Environmental Sustainability.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $39,220

7. Goshen College – Goshen, IN

Goshen College Sustainability Website

Founded in the peaceful tradition of the Mennonite Church, Goshen brings determined hope to today’s most significant environmental questions. A key element of Goshen College sustainability is the Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, a 1200-acre preserve. This area boasts a variety of natural habitats of Indiana, the sustainable farm, platinum-certified LEED buildings, and numerous learning opportunities for a range of students from kindergarten to the graduate level to the members of the community.

STARS rating: Silver
Net Price: $35,230

Bridgewater College - Small Colleges for Business Administration6. Bridgewater College – Bridgewater, VA

Bridgewater is a private liberal arts college in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with about 1800 undergraduates. Students notice sustainable transportation measures all around campus. This includes electric car-charging for community members (the first such station on a Virginia campus) and electric cars used by staff for maintenance and recycling. Students also find free-to-use restored bikes to get around. Bridgewater’s curriculum offers a great variety of sustainability-focused or related courses to choose from. Pictured are members of the Bridgewater community planting trees on the occasion of Earth Day.

STARS rating: Bronze
Net Price: $37,720

5. Pomona College – Claremont, CA

Pomona College Sustainability Website

Pomona, the founding institution of the Claremont group of colleges in Southern California, is a highly selective liberal arts college that consistently ranks among the top five undergraduate colleges in the nation. The fact that Pomona achieved a Gold ranking with the STARS assessment shows that sustainability is a high priority for administration and students. Pictured are students sorting trash to discover waste patterns during Pomona’s annual Waste Audit. Sifting through 400 lbs. of trash gives them a good idea of what is going to the landfill. The campus community can then be better informed about how much more could be recycled and stay out of the landfill.

Net Price: $54,774

4. Maharishi University of Management – Fairfield, IA

Maharishi University of Management Sustainability Website

Maharishi’s uniqueness as an American university lies in its connection with the Transcendental Meditation movement, in which relationship with the environment plays a key part. Students have the opportunity to take a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Living, which was the first degree of its kind in the nation. These majors study at the new (2012) Sustainability Living Center, built according to LEEDS and Vedic standards. Prospective graduate students will be interested in the master’s program in Sustainable Living, in which students study on campus in Iowa for the first year, and may fulfill the second year’s requirements abroad on a two-year sustainability project with the Peace Corps.

STARS: Silver
Net Price: $16,530 

3. Colby College – Waterville, ME

Colby College Sustainability Website

Maine’s Colby College is small (less than 2,000 undergraduates), selective, and serious about green commitments. Not only has Colby already achieved carbon neutrality (among the first four colleges in the nation to do so in 2013), but it has also gone to 100% renewable energy. Pictured is the new Biomass Boiler that uses forest by-products to produce heat, hot water, and cooking energy. In addition, the LEED-standard Alumni Center uses geothermal heating and cooling.

Net Price: $59,430

2. – Aquinas College – Grand Rapids, MI

Aquinas College Sustainability Website

Aquinas College of Michigan sees sustainability as a major contributing factor to a pleasant campus experience. That’s why Aquinas administration has set it sights on a bold Zero Waste initiative. The realization of this goal of zero municipal solid waste means that over 90% of waste is diverted from landfills and incineration. Aquinas has already achieved over 70% diversion, and has now begun to physically weigh the trash, recycling, and compost of each campus building to have a more accurate portrait of improvements.

STARS: Silver
Net Price: $34,200

Chatham University - Architecture Degree Online- Top 10 Values1. Chatham University – Pittsburgh, PA

Chatham University Sustainability Website

The Eden Hall campus in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh was built to house Chatham’s Falk School of Sustainability. As such it is the first college campus to be constructed from start to finish on principles of sustainability. There students may take degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the areas of sustainability or sustainable food. The now fully co-ed Chatham received the Gold ranking from STARS, and boasts the lowest net price in its class of small sustainable colleges.

Net Price: $39,902

This concludes our ranking of the Top 20 Small Sustainable Colleges Ranked by Affordability.

By CVO Staff