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Sierra Club's Greenest Universities and Colleges -- Is Yours on the List?

This year Sierra has shaken things up, shifting their priorities to give more weight to each school's energy supply.

Editor's Note: To read the details about each school, check out this page.

Intercollegiate rivalry is a long and hallowed tradition. That was the operating premise, anyway, behind our fourth annual Coolest Schools survey. We sent out 11-page questionnaires to 900 colleges and universities across the United States, asking them to detail their sustainability efforts. We received 162 responses, nearly all of them painstakingly thorough. Justin Mog, who works on sustainability initiatives at Kentucky's University of Louisville, was one of several respondents who confirmed our original idea, thanking us for "keeping up the competitive pressure on universities to push the sustainability envelope."

The survey "reminds us of what we've accomplished and how much is yet to be done," wrote David Prytherch, the sustainability coordinator at Miami University in Ohio. "It helps encourage continued innovation, knowing that others are watching." As with any ranking system, this one is bound to incite controversy, and we welcome responses and critiques. You can join that lively discussion—and peruse a copy of the questionnaire, an explanation of our scoring methodology, and every school's complete response.

Sierra shifted priorities in this year's survey after consulting the Club's conservation experts, who encouraged us to give more weight to each school's energy supply. That adjustment caused a significant shuffle at the top of the list: This year's top 20 includes 9 newcomers. And our new valedictorian, Vermont's Green Mountain College, placed 35th last year.

Although energy supply carried the most significance, nine other categories were considered in measuring a school's commitment to sustainability: efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments, and a catchall section titled "other initiatives." No school scored a perfect 100; Green Mountain came closest, with 88.6.

Although we worked hard to apply rigorous, objective standards when evaluating the questionnaires, a certain amount of subjectivity was inevitable, and we hope that readers (and the growing legion of college sustainability officers) will bear that in mind. The point, after all, is to create competition, to generate awareness, and to celebrate that so many colleges even have a sustainability officer. -- Avital Binshtock and Kyle Boelte

The Top 20

1. Green Mountain College
Poultney, VT | Score: 88.6
GMC excels in most categories, and it's the MVP when it comes to creativity. The campus gets power and heat from biomass and biogas (a.k.a. cow power) and plans to be carbon-neutral by next year.

2. Dickinson College
Carlisle, PA | Score: 86.1
Dickinson integrates sustainability studies across its curricula, maintains a high-efficiency energy plant, and runs a hands-on biodiesel shop.

3. Evergreen State College
Olympia, WA | Score: 85.9
The student body's self-imposed clean-energy fee enables Evergreen to purchase renewable-energy credits for 100 percent of its electricity.

4. University of Washington
Seattle, WA | Score: 84.7
UW's annual solutions-oriented Environmental Innovation Challenge, which teams students from disparate departments, represents interdisciplinary eco-thinking at its best.

5. Stanford University
Stanford, CA | Score: 84.6
Stanford's $225 million Global Climate and Energy Project focuses on diverse cutting-edge technologies to help lower carbon dioxide emissions.

6. University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA | Score: 84.4
Incentives for alternative transportation minimize car commuting to UCI, even though it's in SUV-obsessed Orange County.

7. Northland College
Ashland, WI | Score: 84.2
Northland's 12-year-old, pre-LEED McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center has composting toilets, low-flow water fixtures, solar panels, and a wind turbine.

8. Harvard University
Cambridge, MA | Score: 82.8
America's oldest college invests in the future with a revolving fund that loans money for recycling and solar projects. Payback comes in the form of efficiency savings.

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