Last week, Sierra Magazine named the nation’s top 20 “coolest” schools for their efforts to stop global warming and operate sustainably.     The magazine’s September/October cover story spotlights the schools that they believe are making a true impact for the planet, and marks Sierra’s third annual listing of America’s greenest universities and colleges. The University of Colorado at Boulder is ranked the top “green” university in the nation this year, a move up from second place in 2008. Universities trailing CU-Boulder in the top five are the University of Washington at Seattle, Middlebury College, the University of Vermont and the College of the Atlantic.

Over 135 schools were ranked.   Results were compiled from a 39-question survey measuring sustainable practices and initiatives in the categories of academics, administration, efficiency, energy, food, purchasing, transportation and waste management. The schools were ranked onr4 a scale of 1 to 10 . The complete scorecard is available online at

Sierra’s Top 20 coolest schools of 2009
Note: Click on the School Name to visit each school’s sustainability web site.

1. University of Colorado at Boulder (Boulder, Colorado)
2. University of Washington at Seattle (Seattle, Washington)
3. Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vermont)
4. University of Vermont (Burlington, Vermont)
5. College of the Atlantic (Bal Harbor, Maine)
6. Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington)
7. University of California at Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, California)
8. University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
9. University of California at Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)
10. Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio)
11. Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
12. University of New Hampshire (Durham, New Hampshire)
13. Arizona State University at Tempe (Tempe, Arizona)
14. Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
15. University of Florida at Gainesville (Gainesville, Florida)
16. Bates College (Lewiston, Maine)
17. Willamette University (Salem, Oregon)
18. Warren Wilson College (Asheville, North Carolina)
19. Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pennsylvania)
20. New York University (New York, New York

ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Harvard University, Arizona State University-Tempe, Duke University all received top scores for energy efficiency.

Harvard University and Energy Efficiency
Harvard University’s (MA), Green Campus Loan Fund provides capital for high performance campus design, operations, maintenance, and occupant behavior projects. Projects must reduce the University’s environmental impacts and have a payback period of 5-10 years or less. The fund provides the up-front capital to departments that agree to repay the fund via savings achieved by project-related reductions in utility consumption, waste removal or operating costs.  At Harvard University (MA) dormitories, students turned off their computers, lights, appliances and heat before leaving campus for the Thanksgiving holiday. Students saved about 329,000 kilowatt hours of electrical energy, which is equivalent to the amount needed to power 5.5 million standard incandescent 60-watt light bulbs for one hour.

Arizona State University, Tempe and Energy Efficiency

To reduce its overall energy consumption and water use, ASU has upgraded the utilities infrastructure on the Tempe campus by retrofitting lighting systems; replacing motors, chiller and cooling tower; upgrading HVAC systems; insulating steam pipes; installing a solar photovoltaic parking cover; initiating a boiler blow-down heat recovery system; installing direct digital control systems for new central plant equipment; and installing thermal energy storage controls. Savings in electricity consumption roughly equates to 53 million kWh per year with a 13 MW demand reduction. Encompassing 80 buildings (6.5 million square feet of space), the environmental benefits resulting from the decrease in electricity use include annual emissions reductions of approximately 110,929,000 pounds of carbon dioxide; 2,014 pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs); 221,222 pounds of nitrogen oxide (NOx); 16,748 pounds of carbon monoxide; 153,700 pounds of sulfer dioxide, 12,243 pounds of PM10 particulates; and 689,954 milligrams of mercury every year.   In addition to these retrofits, ASU also has begun to install an energy information system on campus that will provide real-time, on-line access to information about how campus buildings are consuming energy. See the Campus Metabolism site.  Read ASU, President Michael M. Crow’s article on reducing energy consumption at ASU. Download the Energy Conservation Project Report (pdf)

Duke University and Energy Efficiency
Duke’s Energy Management Team, formed in 1995, investigates and implements cost-saving energy conservation strategies across the campus.  Their efforts have yielded over $5 million in avoided cost savings. Duke’s Energy Star Policy ensures that electronics and appliances purchased by the university do not waste energy.  Duke has partnered with students from Environmental Alliance to challenge each member of the Duke community to take responsibility for the environmental impact of their electricity use by signing up for green power.

ENERGY – College of the Atlantic, Bates College, Unity College, Haverford College received perfect scores for energy.

College of the Atlantic and Energy
College of the Atlantic became NetZero for carbon emissions in December 2007. The College of the Atlantic has made a commitment to achieve 100% reliance on renewable energy by 2015. The school’s electricity is 100% renewable, from low-flow hydro projects in Maine and they are in the process of shifting to renewable sources for heating.

Bates College and Energy
The college purchases 100 percent renewable electricity for main campus buildings, and some campus boilers use B5 biodiesel. Bates consistently seeks to decrease its energy consumption via annual efficiency upgrade projects across campus, as well as through energy conservation programs. The college has successfully reduced their emissions to below 1990 levels.

Unity College and Energy
Unity College has purchased 100% renewable electricity (made here in Maine) since 2002. Unity’s per capita carbon emissions have declined by 28% since 2001, and our overall emissions by almost 20%. The school maintains a small wind turbine on campus that helps supply power to our eco-cottage where their most dedicated sustainability students get to live. They are also aiming to build to LEED Platinum standards for all our new buildings, including our upcoming 6,000 square-foot lab building.   One little-known and unique fact about Unity College is that we are the home of the famous “Jimmy Carter” Solar Panels.  Unity College solar panels were placed on the roof of the White House in 1978.  Read Unity’s Sustainability Blog.

Haverford College and Energy
In 2007, the students’ association voted to raise tuition by $60 per student in order to purchase 100 percent of the college’s electricity from renewable sources. As a result, the campus is powered entirely by wind energy. Geothermal wells have been incorporated into the latest renovation projects, and the college has completed lighting retrofits.

FOOD  – Only Yale University received a perfect score for the way in which they revolutionized their food operations

Yale University and Food
Dining services spends 22 percent of its total budget on locally grown and organic food items and collaborates with Yale Sustainable Food Project to purchase products when available. Dining services uses recyclable or biodegradable take-out containers and recently began a food waste composting program.  Yale’s market garden, a one-acre plot produces more than 300 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers to be sold locally or used at on-campus events.  Up to 49 percent of the food served is local, seasonal, or organic. The university has a comprehensive desk-side recycling program and e-waste collection.

CURRICULUM: Georgia Tech, Columbia University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, University of Georgia all received a rating of 10 for their curriculum.

Georgia Tech and Curriculum
Georgia Tech has a goal that every student will take at least one course in sustainability. There are more than 100 undergraduate and graduate sustainability courses and programs spanning every college. Their courses include the following topic areas: sustainable technology and policy; environmental policy; environmental economics; environmental ethics, earth systems, environmental science, environmental fluid mechanics,  environmental law, environmental policy and implementation; sustainable systems; sustainability policy; and environmental and technological risk management.  Georgia Tech leads green energy research. It has the following environmental research centers: Air Resources Engineering Center; Center for Biologically Inspired Design;  Center for Innovative Fuel Cell and Battery Technologies; Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics; Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development; Environmentally Conscious Design and Manufacturing; Expanding Closed-loops in Production Systems; Georgia Tech Research Institute: Energy and Environment Research; Georgia Transportation Institute; Georgia Water Resources Institute; Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship; National Electric Energy Testing, Research, and Applications Center; Reverse Production Systems; Severe Storms Research Center; Specialty Separations Center (Green Chemistry); Strategic Energy Institute; Sustainable Industral Systems for Urban Regions; and University Center for Excellence in Photovoltaics.

Columbia University and Curriculum
Students interested in sustainability have the opportunity to incorporate Barnard’s green efforts into their education. The environmental science department offers courses that examine the science and policy behind sustainable development. Students taking Introduction to Environmental Science get to partake in Professor Peter Bower’s award-winning Brownfield Action curriculum! Barnard students should also take a look offered by Columbia’s environmental science department.

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Curriculum
The College has a broad range of environmentally related degree programs and the quality of faculty research in the field. ESF offers 22 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs, including bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral (Ph.D.) programs in the sciences, engineering and forestry, and a nationally ranked program in landscape architecture. Associate degrees in forest technology and land surveying are offered at ESF’s Ranger School in the Adirondacks. ESF students contribute more than 65,000 hours of community service each year. Ninety-four percent of ESF faculty are active in funded research.

University of Georgia and Curriculum
The College of Environment and Design houses the largest school of landscape architecture in the United States, with the largest and most complete landscape architectural faculty anywhere. The Historic Preservation programs prepare students for broad-based careers in the conservation and management of historic resources in both the built and natural environments. The Master of Environmental Planning is a professional graduate program with an emphasis on a studio-based integrative planning process grounded in environmental and ecological principles. The Environmental Ethics Certificate Program (EECP) is a non-degree program offered as an enhancement to an undergraduate or graduate degree. University of Georgia was ranked #1 in sustainable design, security design, computer applications by DesignIntelligence.

PURCHASING: Arizona State University – Tempe was the only school to receive a perfect score for purchasing.

Arizona State University – Tempe  and Purchasing
ASU Purchasing and University Business Services has implemented a “Green Purchasing” policy, PUR 210 for procuring environmentally preferred products and services.  Vendors who wish to sell products to ASU must fill out an 11-point Green Profile Questionnaire which includes questions regarding environmental impact of the company’s supply chain and transportation methods, as well as any citations for non-compliance with an environmental or safety issues.  The policy also requires that all bidders, proposers and contracts use recycled paper and double-sided copying for all documents they create in doing business with ASU. All packaging and packing materials have to meet at least one and preferably all of these criteria:  Made from recycled materials, Be recyclable or reusable, Non-toxic or biodegradable. Purchasing policies mandate Energy Star products. Purchasing policies support integrating green materials into ASU buildings. Last year 21.7% of food purchased by ASU came from within 150 miles, with 56 other producers located in states bordering Arizona.  A composting program diverts an average of 12 tons of material a month from the waste stream to a local farm. ASU purchases the compost for use on campus landscapes, replacing nitrogen-rich fertilizers.

TRANSPORTATION: University of Colorado- Boulder, University of California – Santa Cruz, University of California- Irvine, and Emory University all received a perfect score for transportation

University of Colorado- Boulder and Transportation
Since 1991, the university community has ridden for free on local/regional public transportation. The use of alternative transportation is encouraged through a car-sharing program, a ride board, a carpool network, and a bike rental program.

University of California – Santa Cruz and Transportation
UCSC offers a bike shuttle, carpool and vanpooling incentives, as well as the ZipCar program.  The school recently introduced Zimride, a provider of online social rideshare and carpool-matching systems in North America, that works on Facebook.

University of California- Irvine  and Transportation
The University of California Irvine has researched and tested an emission control device for their shuttle buses, enabling the conversion of ten shuttle buses to B100 fuel, which is 100% biodiesel. Sustainable Transportation provides incentives to individuals who walk, bike, or share a ride to campus. UCI opened the first hydrogen fueling station in California capable of dispensing hydrogen at 10,000 pounds per square inch. Students passed a referendum to provide monies for new vehicle purchases, equipment, and route upgrades for the campus shuttle service. All students, faculty, and staff are provided free access to Orange County Transportation Authority buses.

Emory University and Transportation
Emory has a free shuttle bus system–the second largest transit system in Metro-Atlanta–that is 100% alternatively-fueled, with half the buses running on a biodiesel blend made from used cooking oil from our campus and hospital cafeterias.  Emory has doubled parking rates, and has an incentive program for commuters who carpool, vanpool, walk, bike, or take transit including a free emergency taxi ride home, free public transit passes, and free membership for hybrid zip-cars for errands.  “Bike Emory” is a partnership with Fuji, an international bicycle manufacturer and a local bike shop to offer discount pricing on new bikes and equipment to the Emory community. They also have a Bike Share program, offering free bikes to use for errands, and a mobile bike repair center that offers onsite and 48 hour repairs.

WASTE MANAGEMENT: Top Scores were given to University of Colorado-Boulder, University of California, Los Angeles, Oberlin College, Carnegie Mellon University for waste management.

University of Colorado and Waste Management
The Buff Energy Star program is a comprehensive competition among all campus buildings and building proctors to save energy and reduce waste. All incoming residents are given a reusable shopping bag for use in Grab-n-Go and retail dining locations, and an EcoMug program offers discounts to students. The “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” initiative that transformed Folsom Field into a zero-waste facility in 2008 and extensive student-operated recycling that dates back to 1973.

University of California, Los Angeles and Waste Management
Classroom trash cans encourage students to separate mixed and white paper for recycling; food courts offer biodegradable utensils; and Bruin Walk, UCLA’s main thoroughfare, is dotted with bins for discarding glass, plastic, and aluminum.  Other waste-management efforts, include recycling materials from construction projects, recovering water from labs and air-conditioning systems, and composting food waste from cafeterias–all of which reduce waste by more than 1,500 tons each month.  Students recently formed Waste Watchers, a group that weighs dining-hall leftovers to educate eaters about the consequences of their food choices.

Oberlin College and Waste Management
Oberlin College both purchases and recycles all of the carpet on campus through Legacy Flooring.  When carpet must be removed from a building, all of it is recycled. Oberlin then purchases the “new” product from the same company. The “Free Store” is a place where reuseable items of all kinds can be donated or taken for reuse, providing an avenue for reuse of materials on campus, diverting useful items from the landfill. They have put together a separated-stream paper-only recycling bin system to decrease the contamination of paper to be recycled and have worked to have campus printers default to double-sided. The 650 member OSCA (Oberlin Student Cooperative Association) composts all of its organic food waste and non-food compostable waste that is applied to garden beds of George Jones Farm. Campus Dining Services plans to purchase of a grinder and pulper for use in dining halls and in the community. A pulper pulverizes and extracts liquids from organic products, allowing for the composting of post-consumer cooked organic waste from dining halls, which would otherwise be too full of disease to become quality compost. A grinder shreds organic waste, allowing for the composting of biodegradable take-out containers, which would otherwise take approximately one year to decompose.

Carnegie Mellon University and Waste Management
Carnegie Mellon University conduct programs in solid and hazardous waste management. With special focus on pollution prevention, waste minimization, recycling and sustainability. Some of the services they provide are: hazardous waste pickups, computer recycling/disposal, battery recycling and fluorescent bulb recycling.

ADMINISTRATION: University of Washington, Seattle, Middlebury College, Evergreen State College, Dickinson College, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry were given perfect scores for administration.

University of Washington, Seattle and Administration
President Emmert signed the Presidents Climate Commitment and charged the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee with developing a campus climate plan. The president established the Office of Environmental Stewardship to coordinate campus policy and operations and formalized a policy giving full institutional support to campus sustainability.

Middlebury College and Administration

Middlebury has the oldest undergraduate environmental studies program in the US characterized by a rigorous, interdisciplinary course of studies and community service. It has been one of the most popular majors since its inception in 1965. A close relationship between the Department of Environmental Studies and the Department of Environmental Affairs regularly brings students and faculty together with people in Facilities, Admissions, Athletics, Student Affairs and other departments to do research and projects that advance sustainability goals and objectives.  The school has the following:  strategic and master plans that empower the college community to work together on implementation;  a full-time Dean of Environmental Affairs; a full-time Sustainability Coordinator;   environmental liaisons in many departments, e.g: Athletics, Residential Life, Communications, Study Abroad, Advancement, and Facilities; senior leadership at the highest levels that embrace and practice sustainability in carrying out their responsibilities to the institution;  and an Environmental Council of students, faculty and staff has advised the President on sustainability issues and policy. This Council also administers a fund to support collaborative sustainability projects proposed by faculty, staff and students.

Evergreen State College and Administration
We will be a carbon neutral and zero waste college by 2020 as specified in our 2007 updated strategic plan and campus master plan.  We also have a new, faculty governing consortium, “Sustainability and Justice,” with a focus on teaching sustainability across the liberal arts curriculum. President Les Purce is a member of the Leadership Circle of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.  For several years now, sustainability has been a requirement in hiring senior officials such as our vice president for administration and our director of facilities.  In 2008, Evergreen hired a director of sustainability, as the newest member of the president’s staff, to bring together academics and curriculum, operations and students in a broad cooperative effort.  Our Sustainability Council is diversified and fosters collaborative processes.  The Council’s primary lens is social justice, clean energy systems, sustainable food practices, alternative transportation, waste reduction and green purchases. Collaborative governance efforts bridge academics and operations through the management of our campus land, building space, green building design, and purchasing policies including 100 percent recycled paper, Green SealTM cleaning products and Energy Star appliances. We have a new Student Affairs Sustainability Committee that incorporates sustainable practices and education into our residential and dining services. Every student receives an orientation in sustainability and have the opportunity to take a sustainability pledge. Evergreen supports faculty and staff in ongoing, professional development workshops with a focus on sustainability and justice.

Dickinson College and Administration
Dickinson College has an active, presidentially-appointed committee, known as the Commission on the Environment (COTE). During the spring of 2006, Dickinson College created the Sustainability Coordinator position. This one-year full-time position in Facilities Management is filled by a graduating senior each year. The one-year nature of this position ensures that new ideas are being brought to the table and that the position is filled by someone who has a good connection with the current students.As a corollary to the College’s strategic plan, the College’s president, William Durden, is a signatory and a member of the leadership circle for the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, dedicating the College to eventual climate neutrality. Dickinson College has also recently created the position of Director of the Center for Environment and Sustainability Education.  The director’s responsibilities include integrating sustainability into coursework across the different academic departments and within specific courses and helping coordinate other sustainability initiatives.

Three Schools Flunked Sierra’s  Sustainability Test

Texas Tech
Texas Tech flunked Sierra’s sustainability test two years in a row, garnering the lowest placement on the list.  According to Sierra, the school has no sustainability initiatives.

DePaul University
DePaul University received a zero rating in the administration category.  They have not reduced their impact on climate change and adminostrators have not conducted a greenhouse-gas-emissions audit of the campus.Not of DePaul’s $345 million endowment, is invested in environmentally responsible funds.  In the comments section, one site visitor pointed out that DePaul recently opened a five-story, LEED-certified classroom building.

Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Sierra flunked Southern Illinois University, Carbondale because of their huge coal research center that they say is dedicated to developing new ways to keep us hooked on the dirtiest of fossil fuels. Southern Illinois University recently received $25 million from Commonwealth Edison Company to support various “clean coal” programs.  In the comments section, several site visitors took exception to the ranking.  They asserted that SIU and Coal Research Center activities include renewable energy research, as well as carbon dioxide studies on both geological and chemical sequestration.   SIUC just implemented a new green program, and created a new Eco-Dawgs group with the aim of improving sustainability. SUIC has other research projects, including a photovoltaic array and a wind power study.  New and re-vamped buildings are appearing with green roofs. SIUC also has an award winning recycling program on campus, and worms eating their way through meal leftovers and “morale patrols” going through buildings giving prizes to people whose wastebaskets include ONLY material that can’t be recycled on campus.

Spotlight on Sustainable Community Colleges

Sierra Club spotlighted three community colleges that are making trendous strides with their sustainability efforts

Cape Cod Community College
Water use has been cut in half, and Maintenance staffers drive electric vehicles, and the school’s new applied-science center was Massachusetts’s first publicly funded LEED-certified building.

Illinois Community College Sustainability Network
Established in 2007, the Illinois Community College Sustainability Network (ICCSN) is a consortium of all 48 Illinois community colleges dedicated to providing the training and expertise to engage in the new energy economy.

Los Angeles Community College District
The Los Angeles Community College District is overhauling of facilities at the district’s nine schools and 28 buildings are on track to become LEED certified.

A Look at Unique Campus Sustainability Initiatives

The magazine gave other schools “extra credit” schools with particularly unique sustainability initiatives: Emory College, Carleton College, University of Pennsylvania, Berea College, and Pomona College are the five that earned the distinction.

Emory University
Emory has designated 54 percent of its campus as off-limits to development. All new buildings must be LEED certified and for every tree that is removed for a new building, a new one is planted.

Carleton College
Carleton College has an 800-acre campus arboretum filled with native species.

University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania’s cafeterias use only compostable and biodegradable take-out cups More than 800 gallons of used cooking oil each semester is diverted to waste-oil recyclers who turn the liquid into biodiesel.

Berea College

The school has and Ecovillage, where students, faculty, and their families study, work, and live sustainably.

Pomona College
Pomona College recently revamped its housekeeping policies by switching to 100 percent recycled toilet paper, 100 percent green cleaning supplies,  and microfiber cleaning cloths (instead of disposable towels), laundered in Energy Star–rated machines.

How Schools Were Ranked
To find out how and why the schools were ranked, listen to Avital Binshtock, Sierra magazine’s lifestyle editor, on Sierra Club Radio discussing how and why they ranked the schools.


College Sustainability Report Card is the first interactive website to provide in-depth sustainability profiles for hundreds of colleges in all 50 U.S. states and in Canada. Information is based on extensive research conducted for the College Sustainability Report Card. The Report Card is designed to identify colleges and universities that are leading by example in their commitment to sustainability. The aim is to provide accessible information for schools to learn from one another’s experiences, enabling them to establish more effective sustainability policies.

America’s Greenest Campus Competition
America’s Greenest Campus contest has recently announced that they will offer prizes totaling $20,000 to encourage college campuses to become more earth-friendly. The website is keeping track of which colleges got more people involved in the contest and which college reduced the most carbon emissions per participant. America’s Greenest Campus is a nationwide contest that enables colleges and universities to compete against each other in reducing their carbon footprints. The contest has support from the US Department of Energy and is designed to energize and engage our nation’s youth to combat global warming.

© 2009, Tracey de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Tracey de Morsella (323 Articles)

Tracey de Morsella started her career working as an editor for US Technology Magazine. She used that experience to launch Delaware Valley Network, a publication for professionals in the Greater Philadelphia area. Years later, she used the contacts and resources she acquired to work in executive search specializing in technical and diversity recruitment. She has conducted recruitment training seminars for Wachovia Bank, the Department of Interior and the US Postal Service. During this time, she also created a diversity portal called The Multicultural Advantage and published the Diversity Recruitment Advertising Toolkit, a directory of recruiting resources for human resources professionals. Her career and recruitment articles have appeared in numerous publications and web portals including Woman Engineer Magazine,, Job Search Channel, Workplace Diversity Magazine, Society for Human Resource Management web site, NSBE Engineering Magazine,, and Human Resource Consultants Association Newsletter. Her work with technology professionals drew her to pursuing training and work in web development, which led to a stint at Merrill Lynch as an Intranet Manager. In March, she decided to combine her technical and career management expertise with her passion for the environment, and with her husband, launched The Green Economy Post, a blog providing green career information and covering the impact of the environment, sustainable building, cleantech and renewable energy on the US economy. Her sustainability articles have appeared on Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation, Chem.Info,FastCompany and CleanTechies.

  • Energy Aware

    All of us have to find keep searching for possibilities in order to help save our earth. Great reading about this.