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COOL SCHOOLS | Quantifying "Cool"

How (and why) we came up with our list of America's greenest campuses

Sierra Magazine Cool Schools
Illustration by Aesthetic Apparatus, photo by Lori Eanes

Intercollegiate rivalry is a long and hallowed tradition. That was the operating premise, anyway, behind our fourth annual Coolest Schools survey. We sent out 11-page questionnaires to 900 colleges and universities across the United States, asking them to detail their sustainability efforts. We received 162 responses, nearly all of them painstakingly thorough. Justin Mog, who works on sustainability initiatives at Kentucky's University of Louisville, was one of several respondents who confirmed our original idea, thanking us for "keeping up the competitive pressure on universities to push the sustainability envelope."

Cool Schools table of contents The survey "reminds us of what we've accomplished and how much is yet to be done," wrote David Prytherch, the sustainability coordinator at Miami University in Ohio. "It helps encourage continued innovation, knowing that others are watching." As with any ranking system, this one is bound to incite controversy, and we welcome responses and critiques. You can join that lively discussion—and peruse a copy of the questionnaire, an explanation of our scoring methodology, and every school's complete response.

Sierra shifted priorities in this year's survey after consulting the Club's conservation experts, who encouraged us to give more weight to each school's energy supply. That adjustment caused a significant shuffle at the top of the list: This year's top 20 includes 9 newcomers. And our new valedictorian, Vermont's Green Mountain College, placed 35th last year.

Although energy supply carried the most significance, nine other categories were considered in measuring a school's commitment to sustainability: efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments, and a catchall section titled "other initiatives." No school scored a perfect 100; Green Mountain came closest, with 88.6.

Although we worked hard to apply rigorous, objective standards when evaluating the questionnaires, a certain amount of subjectivity was inevitable, and we hope that readers (and the growing legion of college sustainability officers) will bear that in mind. The point, after all, is to create competition, to generate awareness, and to celebrate that so many colleges even have a sustainability officer.

See Sierra's Cool Schools for 2009.

En Español: La Revista Sierra Nombra a las Universidades Más Verdes del País

—Avital Binshtock and Kyle Boelte



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