Higher Education Has Sustainability To Sell

Academics, job prospects, cost -- these have always been among the top factors for high school students when deciding what college to attend. Entering the mix today is sustainability.

According to The Princeton Review, students are showing greater interest in attending colleges that are green. Of 12,000 college applicants surveyed by the Review this year, 64% said they would value information about a college's environmental efforts. Of that group, nearly a quarter felt that such information would "very much" play into their decision to apply to or attend a college.

So, according to The Princeton Review, approximately 1,744 of every 12,000 students in the nation are making enrollment decisions based in part by a school's sustainability program. That's a lot of kids, and a lot of tuition money at stake.

With hundreds of schools greening their campuses, how have they leveraged their efforts by incorporating green into their marketing strategies?

Schools have taken different approaches. Richard Stockton College in New Jersey, for instance, has been green from its founding. Established as New Jersey's environmental state college in 1969, "Green has been part of the Stockton culture from the start," says Sharon Schulman, overseer of the school's sustainability programs.

Schulman noted that only during the last two years has the school incorporated sustainability into its marketing strategy. Now, for example, a "New Jersey's Green College" logo can be found on most of the school's electronic communications.

She says incorporating sustainability into Stockton's marketing program is part of the school's efforts to distinguish itself from other state schools. Yet the school lacks hard data on the relationship between its green marketing and attracting students.

In testing the impact of its green marketing, Stockton has found that more alumni are aware of the school's new green logo. The school is looking to better understand how its green marketing efforts can be leveraged to distinguish itself and is currently proceeding with the first steps of a survey to do so.

At Arizona State University (ASU), rated among the nation's top green schools by The Princeton Review, sustainability began only in 2002, as the vision of university President Michael Crow. In only eight years, ASU has become a model of sustainability.

But the school has not made green a significant part of its marketing strategy. In fact, I was hard pressed to find ASU's green ranking on its own website. Bonny Bentzin, director of sustainability practices at ASU, explains that the school has incorporated green into its marketing strategy in subtle ways. Rather than saying, "Come to the greenest school in the nation," ASU promotes its green initiatives through other means such as its annual report and university magazine.

According to Bentzin, "Sustainability does influence how a student picks a school." She says that the drive for green at ASU is derived from a sense of responsibility and desire to be a more progressive institution, and that any student recruitment gains are a bonus.

Like Stockton, ASU has no data on how green impacts student recruitment but Bentzin does believe that it has made the school more attractive to out-of-staters. "Students are looking for a sincere commitment to sustainability," says Bentzin.

Like many industries, sustainability is still an emerging trend in higher education. As a result, measurable ROI data is hard to come by. For now, it appears that schools are going green out of a sense of responsibility and a "feeling" that they'll be more competitive when recruiting students.

With a few more years of research, schools may come to find that it pays to be green, and I believe we'll see sustainability become a universal marketing pitch to students across the nation.

3 comments about "Higher Education Has Sustainability To Sell ".
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  1. Anissa Wardell from The Publicists Assistant, August 18, 2010 at 11:14 a.m.

    Greg, I completely agree with you. Doing research for a social media launch we did for SIGNiX last week, we found out how many colleges were not green and even those who had taken steps towards going green or sustainability, were still wasting so much in the admissions office when digital solutions are available and most likely the preferred method of the students entering college.

    I would like to see more emphasis in all industries, but colleges have the perfect group of young adults to help make these changes.

  2. Debra White, August 18, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.

    Mike Crow at ASU sells fear and intimidation that's what he sells. I went to a lecture last night at the Goldwater Institute. Jay Greene issued a report that Crow didn't like so instead of engaging in honest discussion he called the professor's chancellor to chew the guy out. Crow's sustainability is a lot of horse manure just like him. He shills a word I cannot say on line.

  3. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion, August 18, 2010 at 6:21 p.m.

    ASU also issued a press release on why the report mentioned by Debra White was wrong, skewed and incomplete, but the release is without a single attribution. It reads like an opinion piece but without a signature/byline. That sort of goes against everything taught in even "flack school." (

    As to Greg's piece, I think this is far more important to incoming students than most schools have realized.

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