Every year, Sierra, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, publishes a report on the 20 most sustainable schools in North America.
The competition to secure a selective spot on the Sierra Coolest Schools Rankings has grown fierce in the 12 years since the magazine started profiling green best practices among colleges and universities.
According to Sierra, there were more than 269 total submissions this year. The ranking now includes schools from Canada as well as two-year community colleges.
When it comes to practicing campus sustainability, the schools on this list are at the head of their class.
How Are The Sierra Coolest Schools Assessed?
So how are the Coolest Schools chosen and what’s the criteria? According to the award announcement:
Our annual Cool Schools Rankings assess colleges’ performance in everything from what they teach to how they obtain their electricity to their sources of cafeteria food and how they manage their water.
It’s a comprehensive assessment system. Schools receive points in 18 different categories including:
- Campus Engagement
- Public Engagement
- Air & Climate
- Food and Dining
- Coordination and Planning
- Diversity and Affordability
- Investment & Finance
- Wellbeing & Work
We are proud to report that the #1 and #2 spots for the Sierra Coolest Schools are occupied by institutions that we serve on a regular basis.
We’ve profiled the sustainability work of both schools in our case studies section and have a proud working history with them.
UNH & DCI
UNH and DCI have enjoyed a rich partnership going back nearly 30 years. During our work together, through a unique buy-back and upcycling program, DCI and UNH have forged a creative sustainability partnership.
What that means is that we re-manufacture wood components for use in UNH’s new furniture from repurposed solid hardwood furniture that we installed on their campus 25 years earlier.
This is upcycling at it’s best. You can read the full case study here.
UC Irvine & DCI
In response to limited space and surging enrollment, DCI and UC Irvine created an innovative and environmentally friendly way to increase occupancy in Mesa Court Towers—a new state of the art residence hall—while designing a feature-rich environment for laptop-driven learning.
Mesa Court Towers, the residence hall we worked on, also received several prestigious awards including:
- The 2017 Project of the Year by the Design-Build Institute of America
- The UC’s Best Practice Award for overall sustainable design
- An Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles chapter’s Committee for the Environment
- And a Merit Award from the AIA Seattle chapter
You can read the full case study here.
The Greenest Schools in North America
So why did these green schools win the top spots in the Sierra Coolest Schools Ranking? Let’s take a look at some of the highlights from Sierra’s website.
#2 University of New Hampshire
The home of the nation’s oldest endowed sustainability office embeds ecology into nearly all of its academic offerings. UNH has the very first eco-gastronomy major as well as a dual major that allows students to study sustainability through the context of, say, economics or Spanish. The Wildcats, who made an impressive 18-spot leap in our rankings this year, pipe methane from a landfill to campus, thus supplying 85 percent of campus energy needs. Considering UNH’s on-campus Amtrak stop, organic dairy farm, and food-waste-reduction system through which water is extracted from dining hall leftovers to be recycled before the food waste gets composted, eco-stewardship is clearly integral to the school’s ethos.
#1 University of California, Irvine
In its ninth year among Sierra’s 10 coolest colleges, UCI leapt seven spots—thanks in part to net-zero-emission housing construction and a pioneering power-to-gas hydrogen-pipeline injection project in which solar power generated on campus is converted into hydrogen and inserted into the Anteaters’ gas supply, creating a partially decarbonizing effect. Last year, undergrads in the College of Sustainability compiled a climate-friendly cookbook, and other students developed a program to encourage broader bicycle use.
Congratulations to these two outstanding schools. We’re proud that our sustainable furniture is contributing to their green missions. And we’re grateful they’re blazing a path for other students and schools to follow.