Green roofs are popping up on buildings all over the world, and have seen an especially big surge in popularity here in America. The city of Chicago’s green-roofed city hall and Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Mich.’s 42,000 square feet of environmentally friendly roof space are just a few of the most prominent examples, but there are dozens more in cities both big and small as both private and public organizations look for ways to be more conscious about their environmental impact. Universities and colleges haven’t missed out on this trend, adapting current and new buildings on their campuses so that green roofs now grace college-owned buildings all over the nation. Here, we highlight just a few of the colleges (in no particular order) leading the way in using green roofs, doing research, and building the greener, more sustainable college campus of the future.

  1. University of Illinois, Chicago: UIC has a number of LEED-certified buildings on campus, but even those that aren’t certified are getting an environmentally friendly update via green roofs. The campus boasts two buildings on campus that are employing green roof technology to save energy, extend the life of the roof, and retain rainwater. Students can currently enjoy heading out onto a green roof at the school’s Behavioral Sciences Building or the Education, Performing Arts, and Social Work Building. Additional green roofs may be popping up in the future as the school aims to help Chicago maintain its reputation as a green roof leader.
  2. Princeton University: Leading the green roof movement at Princeton is the dormitory in the schools Butler College complex. The rooftop is planted with several different varieties of sedum and serves not only as an environmentally friendly addition to the dorm but also a working laboratory in environmental science for students. The rooftop is rigged to collect data about a variety of energy and water-related factors, helping maximize the benefits of this roof and others that may be brought to campus in the future to fulfill the university’s sustainability plan.
  3. Swarthmore College: Swarthmore College is fully committed to creating a more environmentally friendly campus. Part of this process has involved adding green roofs to some of the campus buildings. Thus far, Swarthmore has three green roofs that together compose nearly 14,300 square feet. Even with the college already boasting more green roofs than many other campuses, Swarthmore has plans to add additional green roofs in the future as it aims to lower energy, water, and resource usage on campus.
  4. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Opened in 2005, the huge Rams Head Center at UNC in Chapel Hill incorporates a pretty huge green roof, currently the largest on campus. The roof also collects rainwater in huge cisterns which can be used to water other plants on campus and the facility itself is super green in a wide range of other services and policies. While perhaps the most well-known, the center is only one of a collection of green-roofed buildings at UNC, with others being found on Carrington Hall, the FedEx Global Education Center, and the Genome Sciences Building. With the goal of achieving at least LEED Silver ratings in all new campus constructions, UNC will no doubt be the site of future green roofs as the school expands.
  5. Sarah Lawrence College's Taylor Residence Hall Green RoofSarah Lawrence College: Sarah Lawrence has been in on the green roof trend for some time, constructing its first green roof atop the LEED-certified Heimbold Visual Arts Center in 2004. More recently, the school has greened the roof of Taylor Residence Hall (at right), adding more than 1,000 square feet of sedum in modular trays that help to retain water and keep the building insulated. Much of the work done on the campus has been completed by nonprofits focused on getting people to work through growing the number of green jobs, a boon for both the school and the community at large.
  6. Evergreen State College: Evergreen State College has been consistently ranked among the greenest colleges in America, so it should come as no surprise that the earth-friendly school would be taking part in the green roofing trend. On campus, the Seminar II building is not only LEED Gold certified, but also boasts a pretty great award-winning green roof. The plantings are composed of sedums and a variety of flowering perennial species that help the space not only function well, but also look beautiful. The design was so outstanding that in 2005, the Green Roof Award of Excellence was awarded to the developer on the project, giving this college some serious green roof bragging rights.
  7. Oberlin College: Oberlin College also has a reputation for being a pretty green school, something that comes out in a variety of ways on campus, including the construction of green roofs. In 2008, the school installed its first green roof atop Harkness Hall. The 400 square feet of space is accessible to all students, who can now enjoy the array of sedums planted there while the school reaps the environmental and cost benefits the plants give the hall. Since then, the school has added another green roof on the newly constructed Bertram and Judith Kohl building, which was part of a plan that helped the building earn LEED Gold certification.
  8. Colorado State University: Colorado State University has an extensive green roof program. The school not only builds green roofs but also uses them in its environmental and agricultural studies programs, which are working to determine which plants are best for their region and what soil mixes are most productive. Their research has been instrumental in helping green roofs all over the nation maximize their benefits. While the campus does have a small, 400-square-foot green roof on site, they’re planning much larger green roof projects in the future.
  9. University of Pennsylvania: The roof of UPenn’s School of Nursing is much more than just an energy saver. It’s a treat for students and faculty as well, who get a view of beautiful perennials while they work. The garden is just one of several green roofs on campus, as the university has worked hard to reduce the amount of runoff that makes its way into the water system, both for environmental concerns and to stem the problem of sewer overflows throughout the city. So far, the school has added green roofs to The Radian apartment complex, Steinberg Hall, the Erdman Center, and the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.
  10. University of Idaho: The University of Idaho isn’t quite on the green roof bandwagon just yet, but they’re getting there. The school revealed plans for a serious renovation to the Student Union in 2007, which included a place for a 1,650 square foot green roof. The project was completed in 2008 and thus far has been pretty successful, as plants have thrived in their new rooftop setting. The rooftop was completed with the idea that it would serve as a model for future university projects and to encourage others in the community to take on green roofing projects as well. Hopefully, it has achieved that goal and will spark a new interest in building green-topped buildings on campus going forward.
  11. Rowland Institute at HarvardHarvard University: Harvard has long been a leader in the higher education world, and the school is working hard to ensure that they’re also paving the way when it comes to transforming campuses into environmentally friendly and energy-conscious establishments. In addition to purchasing renewable energy, installing motion sensors, and building a fleet of trucks run on vegetable oil, Harvard has also built green roofs on campus. One of the most successful of these is at the Rowland Institute (at right). Constructed in 2009, the green roof covers more than 4,500 square feet and offers both students and researchers access to scenic views of the Charles River and the city beyond.
  12. University of Washington: Looking for a school that has an insane amount of green roof space? Look no further than the University of Washington, which through its Green Futures Research and Design Lab has built dozens of green roofs all over the campus, with several more in the works. The green roofs are more than just practical, however, and serve as research sites for a variety of environmental building and planting issues. Some of the green roofing projects, namely the demonstration roof near the Botany Greenhouse, even boast agricultural plantings, which could create a whole other dimension to rooftop greening.
  13. Ithaca College: The Dorothy D. and Roy H. Park Center for Sustainable Enterprise at Ithaca College is one of the school’s largest green roof projects and part of the school’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. Designed to echo the local topography and native vegetation, the project was the first on campus to embrace the green roof trend. Green roofs also make an appearance on the newer Peggy Ryan William Center completed in 2011. That building is home to nearly 6,500 square feet of vegetated roof and is hopefully a sign that there will be more green projects at the school in the future.
  14. University of Delaware: The University of Delaware is new to the green roof trend, but it’s a step in the right direction for the school both financially and in terms of sustainability. The first building on campus to get a green roof was the Colburn Laboratory in May of 2011. Using the expertise of university employees in landscape architecture and agriculture and natural resources, the school constructed more than 3,600 square feet of rooftop greenery. The project still has some work ahead of it, but if it’s successful, the University could see a few more green roofs in its future.
  15. Boise State University: As part of a larger campus sustainability effort, Boise State built its first green roof atop the Micron Building just this year. The project is still under construction at present but should be wrapping up just in time for school to start in the fall. The extensive project, loaded with drought resistant sedums, covers more than 10,700 square feet and is expected to reduce energy costs and prevent rainwater runoff in the new facility.
  16. Rice University: This Houston school is getting into the green roof trend in a big way. The campus now boasts a number of green-roofed buildings, including the South Plant, Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen, and the Duncan and McMurtry residential colleges. These buildings are home to the most impressive of the green roofs, which take up a whopping 11,000 square feet. They’re not accessible to students, but students undoubtedly notice how they keep the building cooler, battling the Houston heat much more effectively than a traditional roof.
  17. Mellon Institute's green roofCarnegie Mellon: You’ll find more than a couple green roofs at this cutting-edge school. Currently, Carnegie Mellon is home to six green rooftops, located at Hamerschlag Hall, the Mellon Institute (at right), Porter Hall, the Gates Center, the Posner Center, and Doherty Hall. Most buildings use a tray system and a number are equipped with water collection tanks that provide water that is used for other purposes on campus, though they run the gamut from full rooftop coverings to small gardens for students to enjoy. The school has also proven to be a green leader in solar energy, recycling, and water management.
  18. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville: Engineers and scientists at SIUE are researching the environmental advantages of green roofs, largely through the Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network located on campus. All that research necessitates some sites to study, and the School of Engineering Building’s roof serves as the main laboratory, through there is a ground level site as well. Students and professors at the school work side by side to figure out just what benefits the rooftops have and how they can maximize those benefits, with research benefiting numerous other businesses and green roof projects in the U.S.
  19. Cornell University: To date, the most impressive building on Cornell’s campus, at least from a sustainability perspective, is Weill Hall. The huge building for the life sciences department has a number of green features that help reduce energy use. One of these is a 3 foot thick green roof that tops a group of sensitive laboratories (that need reduced vibrations and no sunlight) in the building. At first glance, the green roofs might just appear like another lawn space, but they’re actually hiding a building underneath, a solution that is both helpful to the scientists within and the environment without.
  20. Duke University: Visitors to Duke will find a number of green roofs on the college’s campus. These include a smaller extensive system atop the Ocean Conservation Center, filled with plants that are acclimated to living in the windy coastal environment and most notably a number of green spaces atop Duke health buildings. The school’s green roof project at Duke University Hospital actually won an award for its design and success in promoting energy efficiency. Even better, the project hasn’t just made the building more environmentally-friendly. The school has reported that many have complimented the vegetation’s aesthetic properties as well.
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Related college story on MNN: Princeton Review publishes 2012 green college guide

Photo credits: Sarah Lawrence College, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon

20 colleges leading the way on green roofs
20 colleges leading the way on green roofs. Here are the schools leading the way in using green roofs and sustainability.