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Colleges Pledge to Make Washington the Nation’s Greenest College Town

On Wednesday, the presidents of nine Washington, D.C., institutions signed a pledge to support a plan to make Washington the most sustainable city in the nation. The pledge’s backers say they seek to declare D.C. the nation’s “greenest college town”—an audacious claim, given the competition from places like Boulder, Colo.; Burlington, Vt.; and Portland, Ore.

The pledge grew out of a plan to improve the city’s climate action plan, introduced early last year under Mayor Vincent Gray. “While the climate action plan had concrete measures to address government-sector emissions, the community center emissions was a little abstract—they weren’t sure how they were going to mobilize sections of the community on climate change,” says Josh Lasky, the sustainability manager at the University of the District of Columbia, where the pledge was first discussed. “We organized this meeting to say, The higher-ed sector is here to contribute. … We’re trying to establish higher ed as the leadership sector.”

The signatories include American University, Corcoran College of Art + Design, the Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, Trinity Washington University, and the University of the District of Columbia.

In signing the pledge, the institutions are committing to a number of sustainability goals, some of them modest and already parts of other sustainability pledges, like the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment: to build green, purchase renewable power, reduce storm-water runoff, and eliminate bottled water. Some colleges, like American University, have already made major strides in all these areas. Others, like Corcoran, are just getting started.

Mr. Lasky says the pledge is meant to fire up the competitive spirit among some institutions, and to create a coalition to bring attention and help to others. “Each institution has strengths, and sustainability is a wide enough area that each school can show off what it does best,” Mr. Lasky says.

Mr. Lasky hopes the competitive spirit spreads to other cities. “We don’t know of any similar pledge that is happening on a city scale,” he says. “By putting this pledge in place—and essentially because no one else has said it yet—we are saying that we are the greenest college town in America. Now, is that an affront to Boston or Chicago? Certainly. But we are looking to play off the competitive nature of college institutions.”

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