Whether it's through socially responsible investments, the use of recycled paper, or sweatshop-free purchasing, you can help your university take its first steps toward going green. Co-op America has the 101 on how to connect to your alma mater in a sustainable way, complete with resources you can use. Here's an excerpt:
1. Read your school's report card: The Sustainable Endowments Institute has issued the 2008 "College Sustainability Report Card" for 200 colleges and universities, assessing their progress on a long list of environmental benchmarks. Before sending a donation to the school you attended, take a look at how your school measures up here. Then, enclose a note with your gift either praising a high grade or urging action on a low one to let the school know that sustainability is important to you.
2: Give a gift to green your school: Rather than simply mailing back an unrestricted donation, call the school's development office and ask if the school has any ongoing greening initiatives. If it does, ask how you might make a restricted gift to specifically support sustainability improvements. Then, be sure to note "restricted gift for" the specific program in the subject line of your check.3. Support student activism: On just about every college campus, groups of students are working hard to improve the school's impact on people and the planet. One way to support your alma mater in a green way would be to donate directly to a student group. Groups such as United Students for Fair Trade, the Sierra Student Coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops, or the Campus Climate Challenge have chapters at hundreds of colleges, universities, and high schools, and they generally accept donations through the 501(c)3 status of the school itself.
4. Give a gift for a better world: The Sustainable Endowments Institute's aforementioned "College Sustainability Report Card" also rates each of 200 colleges and universities on their "transparency"-or how open the school is about where its endowment is invested. If your own school doesn't disclose where its investments go, or if it does but you're not pleased with where it's putting its money, include a note with your gift urging greater transparency or socially responsible investing.
Or, consider splitting your gift between the school and an organization, like the Sustainable Endowments Institute, that is promoting greater transparency in college endowments. Then be sure to tell your school why you reduced your annual gift.
5. Green your alumni magazine: Does your alma mater, or your child or grandchild's school, send you a glossy, full-color alumni magazine several times a year? Like the great majority of magazines generally, these magazines are likely printed on virgin paper containing no recycled content, putting an unnecessary burden on the world's forests. Invite the publishers to consider printing the alumni magazine on greener papers. Co-op America's Magazine PAPER Project. has helped dozens of magazines switch to more environmentally responsible papers, and would be happy to assist any alumni magazine in making the switch.
6. Fight sweatshops: Show school pride with apparel and objects that you can be confident were made under decent labor conditions, not in sweatshops. More than 174 colleges and five high schools have affiliated with the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC).
Find out if your own alma mater is a WRC affiliate here. If it isn't, you may want to avoid purchasing products with the school's name and logo, and to tell the development office why when you send in your gift. You might even consider splitting your regular gift between the school's annual fund and a student group that is working for fair labor practices, such as United Students Against Sweatshops, and then tell the development office why.
Difficulty level: Easy to moderate