200 Universities & Colleges Participate in Sierra’s Coolest Schools Rankings & Vermont’s Sterling College #1 For Food

Just 10 schools participated when Sierra Club launched Cool Schoolss in 2006; Ten years later, 201 participated in the 64 question survey & review

Ten schools participated when Sierra Club launched Cool Schools in 2006; In 2016, 201 participated in the 64 question survey & review

Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, one of only eight federally recognized work colleges, earned an impressive 46.00 out of a possible score of 51 in Sierra Magazine’s 2016 Cool Schools ranking in the food category to lead the list of 201 “four-year, degree-granting undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States.” The top ten colleges for food include institutions, large and small, in rural and urban areas:

RankSchool51 (Possible Score)
1Sterling College (Craftsbury Common, VT)46.00
2California State University, Fullerton42.00
3Columbia U (NYC, NY)41.97
4Stanford (Palo Alto, CA)40.54
5Carnegie Mellon (Pittsburgh, PA)40.40
6Chatham Univ (Pittsburgh, PA)40.31
7Guilford College (Greensboro, NC)39.40
8Brown University (Providence, RI)39.12
9Portland State U (Portland, OR)38.73
10Unity College (Unity, ME)38.60

Sierra’s “Cool Schools Scoring Key 2016” includes nearly 70 thoughtful and detailed criteria underlying the “scoring basis” and the number of specific points obtainable for each criteria. The possible score of 51 in the food category was based on these criteria: (1) 30 points, food and beverage purchasing policies, with institutions earning 1/3 of available points (10 points) by calculating the percentage of food expenditures that are local and community-based, or are third-party-certified responsible (certified organic, fair trade, etc.) and they also “earn a portion of the remaining 2/3 [20 points] based on that percentage;” (2) 7 points, pre consumer food waste composting; (3) 7 points, post consumer food waste composting; and (4) 7 points, vegan options. Ten points (an increase from seven points in 2015) were allocable to organic garden, with institutions earning “all available points for having one or more programs that allow students to gain experience in organic agriculture and sustainable food systems.” However, these points were for a criteria included in the “full ranking” noted below and apparently not explicitly considered in ranking schools in the food category, although there is discretion in the scoring in the “food and beverage purchasing policies” criteria noted above.  Perhaps in determining 20 of those allocable 30 points, food sourced at a school café from a farm or garden on campus resulted in some extra points when such discretion was exercised.

The “Full Ranking” in determining “America’s Greenest Universities” was based on all the criteria with a potential score of 1000. Some of the criteria with the most potential points were energy consumption in buildings, 50 points (an increase from 40 points in 2015); support for clean and renewable energy, 45 points; water consumption, 30 points, and storm water management, 30 points.

This year, Sierra also asked schools to detail what, if any, moves they have made to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies. (Schools that did not complete the fossil fuel divestment question were still eligible to participate.) Institutions earned 10 points for submitting a response on this issue, plus 25 points if the institution had divested from coal-mining corporations, or plus 30 points, if divested from coal-mining corporations and coal dependent utilities, or plus 30 points if divested from coal-mining and tar-sands-mining corporations, or plus 50 points if divested from all fossil fuels.

The ten greenest schools include a diverse array of schools: four large public universities (including two campuses of California’s state university system) as well as a specialized college within the State University of New York system and 5 independent schools (two universities and 3 colleges). Only Stanford University was ranked in the top ten in both the food category, detailed above and the full ranking based on all criteria, noted below:

RankSchool1000 (Possible Score)
1College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, ME)783.41
2State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, NY)735.23
3U C, Irvine (Irvine, Calif)734.38
4Colby College (Waterville, ME)722.08
5Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif)718.87
6Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)716.83
7Loyola University (Chicago, IL)716.14
8U C Davis (Davis, Calif)714.50
9Univ of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)703.02
10Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT)702.99

For the 2016 rankings, Sierra timely received a record 201 complete responses from qualified colleges and universities, which do not have to pay to participate. (The United States has more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities.) Sierra ranks schools on greenness with the “hope” that its annual ranking will “act as a guide for prospective students who want to compare colleges based on the schools’ commitment to environmentalism.”  Further, Sierra contends that its ranking “also serves to spur productive competition between colleges, raise eco-standards on campus and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet.”

Dartmouth College ranked number one for college food in Sierra’s rankings for 2015, but did not participate or submit a timely response for 2016. Similarly, the University of Washington was included in the top ten schools for college food in 2015, but did not participate or submit a timely response for the current year. This year’s deadline for submitting information was March 22, 2016, with any information submitted between March 23, 2015 and March 22, 2016 eligible for scoring.

Sierra collaborates with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education to gather the raw data for its rankings. The association has created what it calls is STARS Reporting Tool to give colleges and universities a method for tracking and assessing their sustainability programs. Latest reports from colleges and universities are available on-line from the association.

All of the colleges and universities that choose to participate in the annual Sierra rankings deserve praise for demonstrating to their students that they care about environmental sustainability and they “honor their students’ idealism by committing to the planet’s big issues” in the words of Sierra’s Lifestyle Editor, Avital Andrews. If your school has opted out of participating or has never participated, students, alum and concerned citizens should contact the institution’s sustainability coordinator or public relations office and ask them to participate. Click here to see if your college and university is among the schools participating.  

(Frank W. Barrie, 9/7/16)

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