SUNY Oswego was again recognized among the nation's most environmentally responsible colleges by the Princeton Review.  In “The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges 2021 Edition,” SUNY Oswego was noted as "absolutely overflowing with sustainability.” As an early signer of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, “the upstate New York green stronghold combines a rich institutional commitment to the environment with a thriving student enthusiasm towards sustainable endeavors,” editors said. 

The redevelopment of the college’s Permaculture Learning Laboratory (PLL) is an apt metaphor for the institution’s work in sustainability: It is in large part about doing things today to bear fruit tomorrow.

The college’s comprehensive approach to sustainability includes incorporating lessons inside and outside classrooms, plans toward increasingly incorporating green energy sources and outreach through efforts like the recent Sustainability Week.

Among the most visible is the PLL, a large community garden between the Shineman Center and Lee Hall. Launched several years ago in tandem with the energy-efficient Shineman Center and its science activities, activity in the PLL stagnated. 

But the renewed activity in the green space is somewhat a silver lining of the pandemic, said Kate Spector, the campus sustainability manager who spearheads the many activities of the Office of Sustainability.

“It’s been an awesome opportunity to engage in a 3D life, especially when we spend so much time in front of our screens,” Spector said. “It’s always a favorite day of the week. Going outside and doing some gardening is right up our alley.”

Sarah Smelko, senior global studies major with a concentration in sustainability, is one of eight seven interns who work with Spector in the Office of Sustainability to ensure students are involved in the college’s sustainability efforts.

“A lot of what we do with sustainability might seem abstract, but this is something where you can see the real, tangible efforts,” Smelko said of the PLL. “This is about growing and sustaining and making a community come together.”

With a focus on developing organic, interconnected food systems, the PLL includes a variety of edible, medicinal, ephemeral and pollinator plant species (including Oswego tea). Spector hopes to work with volunteers to add sunflowers and a pumpkin patch to add to the visual and interactive appeal of the space.

“It’s a unique project that blends functionality with aesthetics,” Spector said.

Sustainability lessons

The college’s academic programs have incorporated the interest of students -- like Smelko -- who want to make sustainability their passion and career.

With the interdisciplinary global studies major, “what I do in the office goes hand in hand with what I do in the major,” Smelko explained.

“It’s a nice major to have,” Smelko said. “It’s small, it’s concentrated and there’s a lot of freedom for what you can do in it. I wanted to find something that included all of the interests I have, like the environment, politics and writing.”

Other options include an environmental chemistry major track, an environmental earth science major track and a sustainability studies minor, and students have been instrumental in changes outside the classroom as well. 

Students led the way to the college forming the President's Advisory Group on Sustainability in Dining Centers, whose recommendations greatly considerably reduced plastics in campus eateries, coupled with increased education on making environmentally-friendly choices for eating and drinking.

The students in the Office of Sustainability coordinated a slate of programs for Sustainability Week in October, which included information on the college’s environmentally-friendly Bike Share program, plant-based eating, combatting fast fashion and the importance of fresh water.

Spector looks forward to working with the New York Power Authority to create an energy roadmap, “which will help us to get more renewable energy on campus and ultimately, greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

The opportunity comes through the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, state legislation that sets benchmarks for significantly reducing institutions’ environmental footprint while offering guidance on how to reach those goals.

“New York state is doing a fantastic job in leading the way both nationally and globally in trying to stave off the impacts of climate change,” Spector said.

Spector said the college is moving toward signing onto the New York Higher Education Large Scale Renewable Energy, a consortium of 21 public and private higher education institutions (16 in SUNY) for the purchase of large-scale aggregated renewable energy. The consortium represents one of the state’s largest aggregated purchases of renewable energy to date and, by making renewable energy more cost-effective, could enable SUNY to help meet Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s statewide goal of having 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.

Green guide

“The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges 2021 Edition” also cited the college's Climate Action Plan, use of green cleaning products, sustainability research, multiple student groups working on and advocating for environmental solutions and its policy of LEED (U.S. Green Building Council standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver at a minimum for any new construction, with most newer construction certified at the Gold level.

The Princeton Review singles out the value of SUNY Oswego's biological field station, located about a mile south of the main campus on Thompson Road. "Sustainability-related research is encouraged by Rice Creek Field Station, a unit that invites student proposals and is dedicated to the support of academic instruction, research, and public service in all aspects of natural history," the report notes.

The company chose Oswego and the other schools for its "green guide" based on data from a survey of hundreds of four-year colleges concerning the schools' commitments to the environment and sustainability. More than 25 data points were weighted in the tallies for Princeton Review's Green Rating scores.

For more information on the guide, visit the Princeton Review Green Colleges website.

For more information on SUNY Oswego's leadership in sustainability, visit