Environment

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 outthis 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.

9. College of the Atlantic
Bar Harbor, ME | Score: 82.5
A sustainable-business curriculum and an affiliated "venture incubator" encourage eco-entrepreneurs.

10. Hampshire College
Amherst, MA | Score: 82.4
Hampshire's responsible-investing committee, one of the oldest in the country, aims to make the school's endowment benefit the environment.

11. [Tie] University of California, Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA | Score: 82 | The UCSC Banana Slugs have an impressive 73 percent waste-diversion rate and plan to reach 100 percent by 2020.

11. [Tie] Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT | Score: 82 | A team of ambitious undergrads made the finals of the prestigious, tech-heavy 2011 Solar Decathlon, a notable feat for a small liberal-arts school.

13. University of Colorado, Boulder
Boulder, CO | Score: 81.9 | A national environmental leader, CU Boulder is the home of the influential Center of the American West, a think tank that addresses Western land and energy issues.

14. Warren Wilson College
Asheville, NC | Score: 81.8 | Warren Wilson gets more than a third of its food from farms within 500 miles of campus--including from its own six-acre organic garden.

15. University of California, San Diego
San Diego, CA | Score: 81.6 | UCSD's dining halls offer "Meatless Mondays" to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. No matter what day it is, 35 percent of the school's cafeteria food is organic.

16. [TIE] University of California, Davis
Davis, CA | Score: 81.2 | Davis students can learn ecologically viable farming methods by majoring in sustainable agriculture and food systems.

16. [TIE] University of Vermont
Burlington, VT | Score: 81.2 | Over the past decade, UVM has cut its number of car commuters by half, thanks to incentives for students who use alternative transportation.

18. University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA | Score: 80.7 | By awarding grants to faculty and students for innovative sustainability proposals, Penn spurs competition to help execute its climate action plan.

19. New York University
New York, NY | Score: 80.6 | NYU plans to install a 6,500-square-foot green roof atop its 11-story Stern School of Business, in Greenwich Village.

20. Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA | Score: 80.5 | Georgia Tech has a full-time alternative-transportation manager and is constructing a million-gallon cistern to reduce its stormwater runoff by 30 percent.

The Rest of the Best

  1. Cornell University
  2. Colorado College
  3. Oberlin College
  4. Oregon State University
  5. UCLA
  6. Yale University
  7. Portland State University
  8. Princeton University
  9. Furman University
  10. Smith College
  11. Pomona College
  12. UC Berkeley
  13. University of New Hampshire
  14. Arizona State University
  15. Marlboro College
  16. University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
  17. Brown University
  18. Macalester College
  19. UC Merced
  20. UNC-Chapel Hill
  21. Colorado State University
  22. Emory University
  23. Washington University in St. Louis
  24. UC Santa Barbara
  25. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
  26. Bowdoin College
  27. University of Michigan
  28. Western Washington University
  1. Boston University
  2. University of Connecticut
  3. Wellesley College
  4. Willamette University
  5. Villanova University
  6. Duke University
  7. Pacific Lutheran University
  8. University of Louisville
  9. DePaul University
  10. George Washington University
  11. Naropa University
  12. Seattle University
  13. Williams College
  14. Northern Arizona University
  15. Bard College
  16. Carnegie Mellon University
  17. Sterling College
  18. Dartmouth College
  19. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  20. State University of New York At Binghamton
  21. University of La Verne
  22. San Francisco State University
  23. Colby College
  24. Case Western Reserve University
  25. Point Loma Nazarene University
  26. Western State College of Colorado
  1. Rochester Institute of Technology
  2. Whitman College
  3. Lewis & Clark College
  4. Swarthmore College
  5. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  6. Humboldt State University
  7. Drexel University
  8. University of Florida
  9. Mills College
  10. Elon University
  11. Hamilton College
  12. University of Idaho
  13. Amherst College
  14. Metropolitan State College of Denver
  15. Central Michigan University
  16. Hobart & William Smith Colleges
  17. Allegheny College
  18. University of Missouri-Kansas City
  19. Appalachian State University
  20. University of Georgia
  21. Bentley University
  22. Southern Oregon University
  23. Knox College
  24. Montclair State University
  25. Augsburg College
  26. University of San Diego