Campus Race to Zero Waste

2021 WinnerThe Campus Race to Zero Waste is a friendly competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus communities. Over an eight week period, colleges report recycling, composting, and trash weights, to be ranked against participating colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. Aquinas has participated in the competition since 2009. Our performance in the Diversion category (combines trash and each of the core recyclable materials to determine a school’s recycling rate as a percentage of its overall waste generation) is as follows:
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2023: 7th nationally and 1st in the State for the Diversion Category. 2nd nationally in the smaller campus division of the "Food Organics" category. 
2022: 16th nationally. 1st nationally in the smaller campus division of the "Race to Zero Waste- One Building Challenge" category (Albertus Hall). 2nd nationally in the smaller campus division of the "Food Organics" category. 
2021: 6th nationally. 1st nationally in the smaller campus division of the "Race to Zero Waste- One Building Challenge" category (Academic Building)
2020: 12th nationally, 2nd in Michigan. 1st nationally in the smaller campus division of the new "Zero Waste" category. 
2019: 8th nationally, 2nd in Michigan
2018: 7th nationally, 1st in Michigan
2017: 15th nationally, 1st in Michigan
2016: 10th nationally, 1st in Michigan
2015: 18th nationally, 1st in Michigan
2014: 7th
2013: 78th
2012: 162nd
2011: 36th
2010: 14th
2009: 19th

2021 Sustainable Campus Index
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s 2021 Sustainable Campus Index lists Aquinas College as one of the top performers (rank 5) in the area of waste, a category that assesses waste minimization and reduction construction, waste diversion and hazardous waste management. Aquinas also received recognition in the 2020 AASHE Sustainable Campus, achieving a third-place ranking in the waste category. 
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"Tree Campus Higher Education" Designation from the Arbor Day Foundation
Aquinas College received the 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023  “Tree Campus Higher Education” designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. This designation recognizes campuses with a broad commitment to promoting healthy trees and community engagement opportunities. There are five broad requirements of the designation including 1) Campus Tree Advisory Committee; 2) Campus Tree Care Plan; 3) Campus Tree Program with Dedicated Annual Expenditures; 4) Arbor Day Observance, and 5) Service Learning Project. This designation is the first of many outcomes related to the college's renewed commitment to investing in the campus urban forest. Aquinas College's Urban Forest Initiative aims to provide a structure, support, investment and engagement opportunities, and plan to better manage the Aquinas College campus woodlands. This initiative is an institutional priority with several components for both the short and long term, and engagement by many individuals across campus.  
More information on the Designation
More information on Aquinas' Urban Forest Initiative

Sustainable Business of the Year
On October 12, 2016, Aquinas College was named the Sustainable Business of the Year by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. The award recognizes organizations that best represent the values of the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. Past winners of the West Michigan Sustainable Business of the Year include Brewery Vivant and Organicycle. This year’s finalists also included Amway, Catalyst Partners, the City of Grand Rapids, Disher Design & Development, Grand Valley State University, Herman Miller, Kent County Department of Public Works, and Rockford Construction. For more information, look here.

Aquinas received a Silver rating from the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) STARS program in August 2015 and March 2019. STARS (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance against other institutions. Schools can receive one of four levels of achievement including bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Achieving the silver rating is a testament to the hard work of so many people at Aquinas who are commitment to advancing sustainability. A few noteworthy data points in the 2019 report include:

  • Exceptional performance in the academic section (44.73 out of 58 possible points) and the campus engagement section (17.80 out of 21.0 possible points).

  • 20.61% of Aquinas academic courses have a sustainability component, including 21.9% of undergraduate courses and 9.1% of graduate courses.

  • 75.8% of academic departments have sustainability course offerings.

More information and Aquinas’ full report can be found here.

Bicycle Friendly University
In 2022, 2019 and 2015, the League of American Bicyclists recognized Aquinas College with a Bronze Bicycle Friendly University (BFUSM) award. In the most recent recognition year, Aquinas is one of 9 Michigan schools to receive this designation. Aquinas joins a cutting-edge group of colleges and universities across the United States that are transforming their campuses and the communities around them. Looking ahead, Aquinas will have access to a variety of free tools and technical assistance from the League to become even more bicycle-friendly.

Sierra Club "Cool Schools"
"Cool Schools 2016 Sierra Magazine" bannerThe "cool schools" ranking benchmarks colleges and universities based on the incorporation of climate change, mitigation strategies, and other sustainability programming into campus operations. Aquinas has provided information to the list since 2011, resulting in varied performance. The Sierra Club retired the Cool Schools list after 2021. 
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2021: 157th
2020: 145th
2018: 144th
2017: 125th
2016: 124th
2015: 96th
2014: 95th
2013: 79th
2012: 41st
2011: 94th

Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges
Princeton Review releases a Guide to Green Colleges every year, highlighting schools who have demonstrated a notable commitment to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation.. This one-of-a-kind resource -- published in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) - is the only free, comprehensive guide that focuses solely on colleges that have demonstrated a notable commitment to sustainability. Aquinas was included in the guide in 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011. >Read More

Other Notable Recognition


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  • Launched a more user-friendly and robust version of the (tree app) Nature website in 2018 to tell our sustainability story to campus visitors. The GIS-based system called "Aquinas College Trees: Past, Present, and Future" was built with the leadership of Mary Clinthorne and students in the Geography Department.
  • Aquinas College passed a new undergraduate general education learning outcome related to sustainability. The outcomes reads: “Acquire awareness and tools to foster human flourishing and a sustainable world”, and will help assure all of our students graduate with sustainability literacy. It went into effect for the 2018/19 school year.
  • The community garden was expanded with the addition of 2 raised beds, bringing the total square footage of garden space to 188 square feet.

  • The Aquinas College newspaper "The Saint" switched to an entire online publication, eliminating all hardcopies.


  • Aquinas College presentation on Zero Waste at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference draws 80 attendees. (Bowen and Student). The presentation was titled “Transforming a Campus for Zero Waste by Focusing on People.”

  • The second annual Experiencing Economicology event was held on May 12, 2017. The event introduced high school students (9th through 12th grade) from the Midwest region to the important concepts of Economicology and sustainability using hands-on exploration.

  • Aquinas College was awarded the Green Star Award by the Professional Grounds Management Society, in the Small Colleges and Universities category. The Green Star Award brings national recognition to grounds maintained with a "high degree of excellence.” They recognize outstanding landscape design and construction by saluting the grounds superintendent responsible for maintaining a well-manicured landscape year round.


  • Sustainable Business alum Eric Saigeon was honored as West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum's "Future Hall of Famer" in October 2016. 
  • Aquinas' Dr. Deborah Steketee was inducted into the West Michigan Sustainable Business Hall of Fame in October 2016.
  • Since 2012, Aquinas College has improved its waste diversion rate from 45% to 68%.
  • Sustainable Business alum John DeAngelis was named in May 2016 as one of GreenBiz’s 2016 “30 under 30”.
  • Aquinas College created a new position titled Dean of Science and Sustainability and hired Sister Damien Marie Savino, F.S.E., Ph.D. for that role. Sister Damien will, working closely with the President, Cabinet, and academic leadership develop program outcomes and strategies.
  • Aquinas’ sustainability accomplishments and best practices were shared to a national audience at the 2016 Dominican Colloquium, hosted by Aquinas College. The college’s impressive sustainability initiatives were also showcased during the multi-day event.
  • Ravine Apartment E receives LEED Certification, making it the college’s 6th building to receive the recognition.
  • The 2016 carbon footprint revealed a 20 percent decrease in carbon emissions since the 2008 baseline.


  • Aquinas Sustainable Business student Jamie Sansone was featured on Wood TV 8 to discuss the Beekeeping Club she started at Aquinas College (April 22, 2015). View the video here.
  • Grand Rapids Business Journal article titled "West Michigan schools rank among 'Green Colleges' in US" discusses Aquinas College's inclusion in the Princeton Review's “Guide to 353 Green Colleges: 2015 Edition." 
  • For Aquinas College students, orientation means lesson in 'zero waste'
  • Aquinas College was awarded with a Bronze Bicycle Friendly award from the League of American Bicyclists. Aquinas is one of 5 bike friendly universities in Michigan. The full 2015 list of bicycle friendly colleges can be found here
  • "Sustainability tracking assessment & rating system silver stars a program of aashe" logoAquinas earned a STARS silver rating from the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS, or the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, is a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. As of 2015, there are over 700 colleges and universities worldwide that have earned a STARS rating.



  • Aquinas College is named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll
  • Sustainable Business student John DeAngelis wins first place in the West Michigan Regional Business Plan Competition.
  • The students from the K House, a sustainability LLC, held a “Mount Trashmore” event in October. The event featured a public sorting of all waste generated on campus in one day to draw attention to the importance of reuse, recycling, and composting. The event was covered on WZZM 13 news. 


  • The Aquinas Chemistry Society receives a Green Chemistry award from the American Chemical Society.
  • Feature Article in MiBiz of select sustainable business graduates working in the field. “Sustainable Saints”


  • Aquinas is included in KIWI magazine’s “Green College Report” as one of 50 post-secondary institutions with a significant commitment to the environment.


  • Aquinas is listed as one of Grist magazines “15 Green Colleges and Universities.” "grist" logo


  • The undergraduate Sustainable Business degree program is recognized as a “Newsmaker of the Year” by the Grand Rapids Business Journal.