Dartmouth College's Big Green Bus, which runs on vegetable oil, visited Microsoft Monday to compare sustainability practices.

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Microsoft employees are pretty enthusiastic about going green.

“I’ve heard of employees doing everything from composting at home to electric-vehicle conversions,” said Francois Ajenstat, Microsoft’s senior director of environmental sustainability.

A dozen Dartmouth College students who visited Monday share the company’s enthusiasm. They arrived at the Redmond campus in their solar-paneled, vegetable oil-powered Big Green Bus to see what the software company has done for the environment and to encourage employees to keep doing green deeds.

Monday’s stopover was the last of a 34-city tour that took the students across the U.S. to spread a simple message: Saving the environment requires everyone’s help, and pitching in is simple.

The students focused mostly on encouraging individuals to adopt sustainable practices, but they’re also curious to see what companies have done to reduce their carbon footprint. They found Microsoft was ahead in the green game.

Sophomore Olivia Kent said that before the trip, “I’d been very discouraged by what’s been going on with environmental policy. But you go out there and you see businesses that are so far ahead, and you’re like, ‘OK, we’re going to be fine.’ “

Ajenstat said Microsoft’s green effort started about 2 ½ years ago, when CEO Steve Ballmer set a goal to cut 30 percent of the company’s carbon emissions by 2012. To reach the goal, Microsoft has implemented greener practices on its campus and reduced air travel by using video and chat technology.

Like companies who assign fire or safety captains to lead drills, Microsoft assigns sustainability captains who encourage co-workers to reduce energy usage. Many of those employees take sustainability practices home with them, making their kids responsible for overseeing their home’s recycling or electricity consumption.

Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system has power management that lets PC owners set a computer to automatically go to sleep after a few minutes of no use. According to a Natural Resources Defense Council study, Ajenstat said, if every PC nationwide used this system, “we’d save $500 million” in power consumption.

The Dartmouth students said they’ve been glad to see they have company in the quest to use less energy. Restaurants willingly gave them buckets of oil left over from cooking, and diesel refineries have offered them oil before it’s been converted into biodiesel — anything to help out.

Their trek provided some surprising moments, said Mercer Island native Betsy Dain-Owens, who graduated from Dartmouth in the spring with degrees in engineering and environmental sciences. In some states, such as Florida, “no one recycles,” she said.

The students offered those not steeped in sustainable-living practices five simple things they can do — like unplugging home electronics at night and turning off the air conditioning when no one is home — “and they were thankful, and they really showed an interest,” sophomore Olivia Kent said.

Jill Kimball: 206-464-2136 or jkimball@seattletimes.com