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Inside the Nation's Top Green Universities

Aug 27, 2013

The University of Connecticut is the greenest college in the nation, according to an annual list of eco-friendly campuses compiled by the Sierra Club.

The new list, published in Sierra magazine, ranks colleges on the basis their eco-friendly campus facilities and sustainability-focused courses. The list marks the seventh year the Sierra Club has rated schools on their commitment to environmentalism.

The Sierra Club evaluated responses from 162 green-qualified schools and ranked them out of 1,000 for their eco-friendly credentials. The organization examined a range of categories, including co-curricular options, energy, investments, food, innovation, instruction/research, planning, purchasing, transport, waste, and water.

Although the greenest schools span the country, four out of the top 10 are located in California.

All of Sierra's top green schools are also listed in the Princeton Review's Guide to 322 Green Colleges, which was released in April.

The top-rated green school, The University of Connecticut, scored an 850.14 ranking and offers over 600 sustainability-focused classes. It has reduced its water waste by 15 percent since 2005. The university reports that a $2.3 billion facility improvement investment is slated to add over 1.2 million gross square footage (GSF) in new construction across its eight campuses by next year, in addition to renovations of over 600,000 GSF real estate. Additionally, the University's Sustainable Design Guidelines were created to "augment LEED as a sustainability benchmark."

Dickson College in Carlisle, Pa., which scored 807.04 and ranked second on the list, is notable for setting a goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2020. The school also dropped paper use by 60 percent over the past four years. It also infuses sustainability prominently in new student orientation with events coordinated by the school's Center for Sustainability Education.

The University of California, Irvine, which ranked at 794.30 in the third top spot, offers a sustainability leadership program called EARTH Reps for all resident freshmen. Participants have the opportunity to plan action projects through peer-to-peer education. According to the school, 200 freshmen were involved during the 2012-2013 year. Several campaigns, including "RecycleMania" and "Weigh the Waste," include eco-friendly campus activities that minimize students' environmental impact.

In addition to the green list, Sierra also investigated how campus sustainability efforts carry over to professional experience. An article titled "The Measure of an Education" describes how universities are tracking alumni to find out whether their green education is put into practice. Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt. (ranked sixth), for example, is the first college to survey its alumni to see how "green" they've been since graduation.

"Only a few universities actually gauge whether their environmental curriculum makes a difference after students graduate," wrote Avital Andrews of Sierra. "But the anecdotal evidence is heartening: Story after story confirms that the environmentalism surrounding students during college sticks with them."

University tracking measures can help institutions reevaluate or revise their current curricula to prepare the future workforce. Such insight is crucial at a time when company leaders look to recruit sustainability leaders and report that they are interested in sustainability measures. Most who took a 2010 Deloitte survey claimed that they see a "clear alignment between sustainability and their overall business strategy."

Here is the full green list from the Sierra Club. For a detailed rankings and findings, see the website here.

1. University of Connecticut (Storrs, Conn.)

2. Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pa.)

3. University of California, Irvine (Irvine, Calif.)

4. University of California, Davis (Davis, Calif.)

5. Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.)

6. Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vt.)

7. Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)

8. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.)

9. American University (Washington, DC)

10. University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, Calif.)