Nine years ago, Paul G. Gaffney II became president of Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and sustainability became a top priority on campus. As a retired vice admiral in the United States Navy and a former oceanographer, Gaffney had a strong science background and firmly believed that institutions of higher learning should not be complicit in the destruction of the environment.

Gaffney was so serious about his dedication to sustainability that in 2009, Monmouth University became the first college in the state of New Jersey to enter into an agreement with the EPA. The agreement states that Monmouth will enhance its commitments to clean energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency, recycling, waste reduction, and cleaner vehicles and construction, among other commitments. Every six months, the university will voluntarily report its progress to the EPA.

In 2005, the university undertook its biggest green project to date: installing multiple arrays of solar panels across its rooftops. The university began generating electricity through solar power in August of 2006; six years later, the college entered into a power purchase agreement with Torcon Energy Services to build rooftop photovoltaic systems that will generate more than 695,000 kilowatt-hours annually. According to Patricia Swannack, Monmouth’s vice president of administrative services, these systems will result in utility savings of $80,000 each year.

“We’ve already added these solar panels to seven buildings, and we’ll add them to any building on campus with a flat roof,” Swannack says. “We’ve already reduced our energy usage. With our system in place, it’s the equivalent of taking 321 cars off the road each year—the equivalent of not driving a million miles each year. That really adds up.”

The school is also in the process of replacing an old arts building, and it’s keeping sustainability in mind for the project. Monmouth hired local contractors to cut down on Rechnitz Hall’s carbon footprint; the new building will exclusively feature energy-efficient fixtures and sustainable building materials.

There is a reason Monmouth University was named one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the United States and Canada in the 2012 edition of “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.” The school has covered most of its bases from water-saving fixtures and hydration stations to on-campus Zipcar programs and yearly “lighting fairs” that enable students and employees to purchase energy-efficient light bulbs at reduced prices. But it has more in the works.

“Not only do we want to set an example for our students, but we want our students to set an example for others,” Swannack says. “We’re really pushing to provide our students with more opportunities to learn about sustainability. Recently, we made it possible for our students to minor in sustainability because we feel it’s important to educate them on living responsibly and to create the next generation of sustainable leaders.”