The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which promotes good environmental practices at colleges and universities, recently issued its annual STARS report, and the top performers included most of the top 10 “greenest” universities as judged by the Sierra Club.
The STARS report — for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System — recognizes schools for their sustainability performance, awarding Bronze, Silver, or Gold ratings to institutions based on four categories: academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration.
The Sierra Club’s ranking, issued in August, judges colleges and universities based on their energy use, waste handling, financial investments, and other factors. The Sierra Club collaborated with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and other groups to come up with its ranking, which covers 173 schools. The STAR ratings include 68 Gold winners, 154 Silver winners and 69 Bronze winners.
A total of eight schools have been awarded both a Gold STAR rating and a spot on the Sierra Club's top 10. Here's what they're doing right.
1. Energy and water efficiency key for UC-Irvine
Last year, the University of California, Irvine, the top-ranked school on the Sierra Club list, was the first higher ed institution in the U.S. to improve its energy efficiency by 20%, compared to its 2008 consumption. UC-Irvine has three solar power projects on its campus and a 19-megawatt electric/steam cogeneration plant, and it recycles water to save more than 210 million gallons per year.
2. More solar power, less bottled water at American U.
American University, Sierra's runner-up, has the largest solar array in the District of Columbia and a student-organized program that has students adopt and care for trees around the city. By 2016, bottled water purchases by clubs will be banned; by 2017, more than half of the dining hall food will come from sustainable sources; and by 2020, the school will eliminate all waste headed for landfills or incinerators.
3. Saving the stormwater at Dickinson
No. 3 on the Sierra Club rankings, Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, has rain gardens, cisterns, native lawns, and porous pavement to absorb stormwater runoff, plus a bicycle-sharing cooperative, an organic farm, and nearly 100 environmental classes in 33 academic disciplines.
4. Urban greenhouse farming at Chicago's Loyola
Loyola University Chicago, No. 4, features Chicago’s largest geothermal facility, a 3,100-square-foot greenhouse for research on urban agriculture and a student-run working farm. It also features a lab where students learn to make biodiesel fuel and soap from excess vegetable oil, and a combined seven current and planned bachelor degree programs in environmental fields.
5. Divestment, green purchases diversify Stanford
Stanford University (No. 6) got props for divesting its endowment from the coal industry. Also, it buys minimally packaged items, recycled-material products, and green cleaning products. Stanford uses electric vehicles for about a third of its 1,000-vehicle fleet and uses a reverse-osmosis water-saving system.
6. Solar charging for electric vehicles, fuel cell research at USF
The University of South Florida, No. 7, has America’s first 20,000-watt solar charging station for electric vehicles. It also features a research center for fuel-cell and solar technologies and research center that builds smart electric power grids. In 24 years, USF’s recycling program has saved 48 tons of aluminum and 9,700 tons of paper from landfills.
7. No artificial horsepower at Vermont's Green Mountain
Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT — Sierra's No. 8 — has horses plow the fields at the school’s farm, not tractors. In its mission statement, the college identified the environment as a theme that underlies all of its academic programs. It uses clean energy sources, including a solar array and a biomass-fueled electric power plant. The college also had the highest score possible in the financial investments category, ensuring that its investments don’t contribute harm to the environment.
8. Alternative fuel, reforestation critical to Georgia Tech
Last but not least, the Georgia Institute of Technology uses alternative fuels in 150 of its 500 vehicles, and with its construction and demolition projects, it focuses on diverting waste, along with other sustainable practices. Among those practices are stormwater runoff reduction efforts that include using ground surfaces that allow water to pass through, removing paved parking lots, campus reforestation, and installing cisterns. The institution is No. 10 on the Sierra Club list.