America’s colleges and universities have become symbols of sustainability in recent years, investing in renewable electricity and energy efficiency to cut costs and appeal to green-minded students. But even among this crowd of teacher’s pets, the University of California Davis leads the pack of most sustainable colleges in the country.
UC Davis vaulted to the top of the Sierra Club’s sixth annual “Cool Schools” list from the 8th spot in 2011 by diverting around 70 percent of its trash from landfills, setting strict green purchasing standards, creating a sustainable transportation system that boasts up to 20,000 bikes on any given day, and inaugurating the largest planned net-zero energy residential community. The school also has plans in place to reduce emissions below 2000 levels and electrical use by 60 percent.
The “Cool Schools” list, open to all four-year undergraduate colleges and universities, ranked 96 schools that responded to a 300-page voluntary survey. Entries were evaluated based on criteria like energy sources, energy efficiency, purchasing, waste management, transportation, and financial investments.
The survey, officially called the Campus Sustainability Data Collector, was implemented for the first time in 2012 in order to standardize school responses and streamline the overall process. Several organizations contributed to the survey, including the Sierra Club, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Sustainable Endowments Institute, and the Princeton Review.
A total of 894.5 points were required for “total sustainability” but no school achieved that lofty mark. UC Davis registered 709.17 points, and the rest of the top ten scored between 700 and 627 points. The full list of the top ten schools and their respective point totals are:
- University of California, Davis – 709.17 points
- Georgia Institute of Technology – 704.89 points
- Stanford University – 681.48 points
- University of Washington – 679.56 points
- University of Connecticut – 667 points
- University of New Hampshire – 653.36 points
- Duke University – 642.32 points
- Yale University – 640.08 points
- University of California, Irvine – 628.48 points
- Appalachian State University – 627.92 points
While they didn’t take the top spot, the other schools within the top five reported notable achievements in 2011. Second-ranked Georgia Tech offers more than 260 sustainability-related classes, while third-ranked Stanford focuses on food issues with 20 classes on food policy and an extensive composting system. Fourth-ranked University of Washington sources more than half of its food within 250 miles of campus and has multiple renewable energy sources, and fifth-ranked University of Connecticut makes its marks with a facility that produces 15 truckloads of compost per week and recycling programs for everything from cell phones to sneakers.
The latest Cool Schools ranking follows up on another recent report from the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment that found hundreds of schools inventorying their carbon emissions, creating climate action plans, purchasing billions of kilowatt-hours of renewable energy credits.
Clearly, climate awareness and sustainability is taking off on American campuses, but even more impressive achievements may be ahead, led by the efforts of the students themselves. “These schools are channeling the enthusiasm of their students, who consistently cite climate disruption and environmental issues as the most serious challenges their generation must confront,” said Bob Sipchen, Sierra magazine’s editor-in-chief.
UC Davis image via city-data.com
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