What’s the one single thing that college students can do to “be green” on campus? I asked Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, that question, and he said, “Stop driving cars!”

Wow, that makes total sense. College students who want to walk the talk for our planet should definitely not bring automobiles to school. This is an idea whose time has come because:

  • Millennials don’t like driving anyway.
  • There have never been more resources, including car sharing, for living auto-free on campus.
  • College parties and drinking don’t mix well with driving. Just ask College Parents of America: “For many students, the first year of college is a year of exploration — and of testing and defining limits. As students are testing this new freedom — and yes, that often involves drinking — at least they will not be getting behind the wheel of a car.”
Some campuses lead in this regard. Most prohibit freshmen from bringing cars, but MIT goes further and tells students that they’re “discouraged from bringing cars ... due to the scarcity of parking spaces on campus. Please consider leaving your car at home and using public transportation. Cambridge has excellent bus and subway service and MIT has many shuttles available.”

Car sharing is a better alternative to paying steep college parking fees.

Car sharing is a better alternative to paying steep college parking fees. (Photo: Vishal/flickr)

Georgetown and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (which has multiple bike paths) do not allow students to have cars, and the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University have very few. Under the heading, “Dude, Where’s My Car?” New York City’s NYU tells students that it “is a school within a city. There are no cars and no student parking passes.” Skateboarding and Segway-ing are popular, though.

At the University of New England, there are free bikes available to students who leave their cars at home, and car sharing is increasingly available on campuses. Big services such as Zipcar and Enterprise Car Share see a big market in college kids who don't have keys in their pockets. Enterprise, for instance, is now on dozens of campuses, and you can browse for yours here. Zipcar is here.

From the hall of shame: Colleges with the most cars on campus include Indiana University/Purdue University in Indianapolis (where public transit is a problem). The school has a whopping 99 percent of its more than 30,000 students driving in as commuters. At Wayne State in Detroit, 98 percent drive, and at Mississippi State, it’s 95 percent. Other big driving schools are Spalding University in Kentucky, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, the University of Alabama at Huntsville, the University of Memphis and the University of South Dakota.

The University of Pennsylvania is an urban campus, where parking is at a premium and transit available. Few students own cars.

The University of Pennsylvania is an urban campus, where parking is at a premium and plenty of transit is available. Few students own cars. (Photo: PW Baker/flickr)

There’s a pattern here. Urban schools don’t allow cars because they don’t have parking, and it’s “what, me worry?” at rural institutions (especially in the South). But it’s not likely to stay that way. If millennials continue on the same road, cars on campus just won’t be cool.

Becker and co-author James Gerstenzang point out that less driving is a blow to global warming — every gallon of gas creates 25 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s one reason 16- to 34-year-olds drove 23 less miles in 2009 than in 2001, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group reported last year. Further, as long ago as 2010, 25 percent in that age spread didn’t even have licenses. Among 19 year olds, 30 percent hadn’t taken the driving test (of if they had, they failed)!

Gen Y believes that climate change is real, and according to Deloitte LLP, almost 60 percent say they’d prefer to drive a hybrid car over a conventional model. The logical next step is that they’d rather not drive at all.

Full disclosure: My two urban college students (Boston and New York) do not have cars on campus. And here is how (and why) they introduced car sharing at Kent State:

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.