UConn is Sierra Club’s No. 1 ‘Coolest School’

sierra2_Cover

The University of Connecticut has won the top spot as Sierra magazine’s “Coolest School” nationwide for its efforts to encourage sustainability, green technology, and environmental stewardship.

The No. 1 ranking, announced today, is the culmination of UConn’s rapid rise on the list every year since its debut in the top 50 in 2010. More than 2,000 colleges and universities in the United States are eligible for ranking by the magazine each year.

The Sierra Club, the largest environmental grassroots organization in the United States, ranks schools based on sustainability data collected in several subject areas, including energy supply, efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, and financial investments.

Students in a living/learning community work at the University's Spring Valley Farm, which supplies some of the locally sourced food served in the dining halls. (Bret Eckhardt/UConn Photo)

Students grow vegetables at the University’s Spring Valley Farm, which supplies some of the locally sourced food served in the dining halls. (Bret Eckhardt/UConn Photo)

Sierra magazine’s editors lauded UConn for a wide variety of initiatives, including offering more than 600 classes relating to sustainability; reducing water use by 15 percent since 2005; and serving a large amount of locally sourced food in its dining facilities.

The new Sierra honor comes in the same year that UConn topped 215 universities worldwide to win the No. 1 spot on Universitas Indonesia’s GreenMetric World Ranking.

“UConn’s commitment to environmental sustainability is a core part of fulfilling our mission as a land and sea grant university,” UConn President Susan Herbst says. “While we’re immensely honored to be included in these rankings, we know that our work is not done. We continue to seek new opportunities every day to protect the natural world through deliberate, thoughtful policies and curriculum offerings.

Students gather along Fairfield Way for Earth Day Spring Fling on April 18, 2013. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The annual Spring Fling on Earth Day is a popular event with students. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

“No student should leave here, degree in hand, without a deep sense of responsibility for the protection of the planet,” she adds. “It is part of being a good citizen.”

UConn, which was ranked No. 5 last year, has been singled out in recent years for advances in on-campus recycling programs, which recycle and reuse everything from food and landscaping waste to consumer goods such as used sneakers, appliances, and electronics.

Some of UConn’s other high-impact environmental initiatives include:

  • This year’s opening of UConn’s new reclaimed water facility, the first of its kind in the region. It is capable of treating up to 1 million gallons of wastewater each day for use in the University’s on-campus power plant, replacing and conserving drinking-quality water that previously was used at that facility.
An interior view of the water reclamation facility on April 3, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The new water reclamation facility, which opened this spring. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Tim Tussing points to micro filtration apparatus at the water reclamation facility on April 3, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Micro filtration apparatus at the water reclamation facility. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

  • A detailed Climate Action Plan, which helped guide efficiency improvements at nearly 100 on-campus buildings in recent years – saving about $2 million annually in energy costs and avoiding thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions yearly.
The natural gas fuel cell outside the Center for Clean Energy Engineering at UConn's Depot campus. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The natural gas fuel cell outside the Center for Clean Energy Engineering at UConn’s Depot campus. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Solar panels will support a new microgrid energy system at the Depot Campus. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Solar panels, together with the fuel cell, will support a new microgrid energy system at the Depot Campus. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

  • Progress toward cleaner energy through the installation of a fuel cell and solar-powered microgrid to supply energy at its Depot Campus, and an ongoing grant-supported program to replace many of its oldest gas- and diesel-powered vehicles with electric and hybrid vehicles.
  • Proactive water conservation education programs, bicycle- and car-sharing programs, and other initiatives for students, employees, and community members.
UConn bicycles are available for loan outside Homer Babbidge Library. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn bicycles are available for loan outside Homer Babbidge Library. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Hybrid charging station at motor pool on Aug. 9, 2013. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

An electric vehicle charging station at the University motor pool. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

  • A curriculum that strongly supports the University’s “green” mission through a bachelor’s degree program in environmental studies and more than 600 courses with an environmental and sustainability focus, in areas ranging from engineering to law.
  • “Green” construction initiatives such as rain gardens, green roofs, and porous paving materials. Those building features help manage stormwater runoff and improve water quality in nearby rivers and streams. UConn also has a Vendor Code of Conduct that establishes a preferential standard for doing business with companies that employ best practices for sustainability.
A roof garden on top of Laurel Hall, a new classroom building that has LEED Gold certification. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Green construction includes a roof garden on top of Laurel Hall, a new classroom building that has won LEED Gold certification. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Xeriscaping in Laurel Hall’s bioretention basins, which collect roof drainage.

Xeriscaping in Laurel Hall’s bioretention basins, which collect roof drainage. (UConn Office of Environmental Policy Photo)

  • Herbst’s appointment of a senior adviser specifically to help shape policy on environmental issues – ecology expert Gene E. Likens, whose work to identify and research acid rain has placed him among the world’s most eminent climate researchers.

Rich Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy, says the University’s sustainability successes are a result of initiatives and collaborations across many departments.

“Any time the University is ranked No. 1 nationally in any endeavor, it requires strong leadership and teamwork, and we’ve had both,” Miller says. “The commitment to the environment and sustainability starts at the top and runs deep at UConn with faculty, staff, and students. Many people can take pride in this recognition, knowing that their contributions have made a difference.”

He said categories measured by the rankings range from academic programs to energy, transportation, purchasing, dining services, as well as building, landscaping, and investing, to waste reduction and water conservation.

Students from the EcoHouse Learning Community students educated patrons about recycling on Green Game Day at Gampel Pavilion. Photo by EcoHouse

EcoHouse Learning Community students (in green shirts) and EcoHusky students (in blue) educated patrons about recycling on a Green Game Day at Gampel Pavilion. (File photo)

“Student involvement is also critical, and we’ll see plenty of EcoHuskies and other student volunteers again this fall at events like EcoMadness in the dorms and ‘Green Game Days’ with Athletics,” Miller says.

In addition to UConn, this year’s Top 10 “Coolest Schools” in the Sierra rankings are:

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, NY)
6.         Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vt.)
7.         Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)
8.         Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.)
9.         American University (Washington, D.C.)
10.       University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, Calif.)

The complete rankings, along with this year’s coverage of higher education’s environmental efforts, are online at www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.

The 'green' roof on Gant Plaza. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

The ‘green roof’ on Gant Plaza reduces water runoff from the buildings. (Frank Dahlmeyer/UConn Photo)

Eco friendly parking lot outside of the Hugh S. Greer Field House.  Photo by Jessica Tommaselli

Some campus parking lots have been repaved with an environmentally friendly porous material. (Jessica Tommaselli/UConn Photo)

Staff in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources compost more than 2,500 tons of agricultural waste a year at a special facility. (UConn Office of Environmental Policy Photo)

The University composts more than 800 tons of agricultural waste a year at a purpose-built facility. (UConn Office of Environmental Policy Photo)

New Club Sports fields have soil moisture sensors that prevent over-watering.

New club sports fields have soil moisture sensors that prevent over-watering. (UConn Office of Environmental Policy Photo)