Last June I wrote a small post about a few of the ways academic institutions further sustainability. They do so, I argued, by greening their campuses, educating future green leaders and serving as centers of research and development for more eco-friendly technologies. Happily, I am not the only one who has been paying attention. For the fourth year in a row, the Sierra Club has ranked the nation’s “Cool Schools” and this year Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont takes honors as the nation’s greenest school.
As in years past, Sierra sent surveys to 900 of the nation’s colleges and universities and announced the review in the Chronicle of Education. In the end, 162 colleges responded to the survey, which consisted of ten categories including academics, energy supply, purchasing, food and more. Each category was worth 10 points, with a maximum total of 100. Green Mountain College (GMC), in the #1 ranked spot this year, scored 88.6. The second and third ranked schools, Dickinson College and Evergreen State College, scored 86.1 and 85.9 respectively.
So, what does it take to be one of the nation’s green schools? A biomass plant might be a good place to start. Indeed, Sierra’s decision to give more weight to each school’s energy supply really shuffled the list. In fact, Green Mountain College was ranked 35th last year. No doubt, a large portion of this improvement can be attributed to the school’s new biomass plant, a $5.8 million plant opened on Earth Day of 2010. The school intends to be carbon neutral as early as next year, after reducing its carbon emissions by 50% upfront. The biomass heating plant allows GMC to heat its 155 acres of campus buildings by using green woodchips. In fact, the plant will burn an estimated 4,000 – 5,000 tons of locally sourced woodchips annually, shifting 85 percent of current fuel oil usage to biomass. While the plant supplies 20% of the school’s electricity, the school purchases an additional 54% of its electricity through Central Vermont Public Service’s Cow Power program. Such power helps support local dairy farmers by generating biogas from the methane of cow waste.
No doubt the biomass plant and other smart energy choices put the school over the top, but GMC and other highly ranked winners had more going for them. For instance 50% of GMC’s school buildings had at least a silver LEED ranking, while 100% of buildings at #2 ranked Dickinson College achieved that designation. Academics were also considered. At Green Mountain College and #3 ranked Evergreen State, 100% of departments offer environment or sustainability related classes, while 65% of departments offer such coursework at Dickinson.
This time last year I was busily searching the Internet, trying to decide which school to place my bets on. I had made the decision to change my life by going back to school to study sustainability in business. Many schools were offering Green or Sustainable MBAs and many more were offering Certificates in Sustainability. Because of a long tradition of stewardship and a highly credentialed faculty in regards to Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, I chose GMC. Looks like I made the right choice. I am proud to see how my tuition dollars are being used.