Back to School Special: Sierra Club Names Top Ten Eco-Enlightened Schools

By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

Colleges are getting their green on.  From local, organic food to renewable energy to green building, for students who embody green values, the Sierra Club just announced the top ten eco-enlightened colleges, with the University of Colorado (CU) heading the pack. Go Ralphie (CU’s buffalo mascot)!

According to Sierra Club, “Back in the day, high schoolers looking at colleges were mainly concerned with three things: prestige, location, and whether the place had a rockin’ social life.

These days, however, applicants look for something more: a school with green credentials.”

For students who want to attend a school with a green track record, or for returning students interested in improving sustainability programs on their campus, the Sierra Club guide is a great resource. And hopefully by studying at a green campus all students will leave with a greener ethic to apply to their work and lives.

The Sierra Club assessment ranks academics, administration, efficiency, energy, food, purchasing, transportation and waste management. Schools could earn up to ten points in each category, and up to five bonus points if they had additional green initiatives. The final rankings can be found on the Sierra Club web site.

CU ranked highest for its programs in transportation and waste management, with room for improvement in the energy category.

Harvard University got a high grade for their energy efficiency programs, Yale University is recognized for its food operations and the University of California at Los Angeles recognized for revamping its waste management.

Texas Tech, DePaul University and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale are called out for their lack of progress.

Sierra Top10

Other resources to check out

The Sustainable Endowments Institute recently launched the Green Report Card, a new, interactive web resource that profiles hundreds of colleges in all 50 U.S. states.

They have a Google interactive map that lets you see visually where the best rated schools are located in your geographic area of interest. And the interactive database allows you to compare top ranked schools, which were assessed on policies and practices in nine main categories, including climate change and energy, endowment transparency and food and recycling.

In addition, The Princton Review Green Honor Roll has its own list of the top ranked schools.

Best practices and key trends

Some of the best practices and trends that stand out after reviewing both the Sierra Club guide and the Green Report Card:

  • Full-time staff dedicated to sustainability: A majority of schools have recognized the need for full-time campus sustainability administrators.
  • Local food: Many schools are devoting at least a portion of their food budgets to buying from local farms and/or producers.
  • Climate change: Over 500 schools have committed to achieving carbon neutrality in the long term by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.
  • Green housekeeping: Some schools have revamped their housekeeping policies by switching to 100 percent green cleaning supplies, 100 percent recycled toilet paper, and microfiber cleaning cloths (instead of disposable towels).
  • Green building: Green building policies are becoming more widespread.
  • Transportation: Alternative-fuel vehicles, as well as car-sharing and bicycle-sharing programs, are becoming more prevalent.

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Deborah Fleischer, founder and president of Green Impact, works with mid-sized companies to launch green initiatives that encourage innovation and grow market share. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.