The Sierra Club Ranks 'Coolest' Schools

Posted by: Geoff Gloeckler on August 17, 2011

Want to attend an eco-friendly university? The Sierra Club says head west.

The most eco-conscientious colleges line the West Coast, according to Sierra magazine’s fifth-annual ranking of the nation’s “Coolest” schools. The University of California system pulled a coup with four schools in the top 10, but the top school overall was the University of Washington in Seattle.

Ranked fourth last year, UW took the top spot from second-ranked Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt. UW was helped by the survey’s emphasis on where schools get their energy and rewarding schools that don’t rely on coal. Hydropower provides 90 percent of the energy at UW. Additionally, all buildings built after 2006 have earned at least LEED Certified Gold, all new appliance purchases are Energy-Star rated, and recycling is “ubiquitous,” says Avital Binshtock, lifestyle editor of Sierra.

A school’s commitment to the environment matters to students: A 2010 Princeton Review report said 64 percent of prospective college students take a school’s environmental stance into consideration when applying and attending.

Sierra rated schools on nine categories: energy, efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, and financial investment, as well as a tenth miscellaneous category. Questions ranged from what percentage of food in cafeterias is USDA Organic or from a location within 100 miles of campus, whether the school offers environmental classes, what percentage of paper purchased is 30 percent post consumer recycled, how much of the campus vehicle fleet is electric, hybrid of powered by bio fuels, if the school composts trash, and if the university endowment invests in dirty energy companies such as coal. The completed surveys with scores will be available online.

Given that UW scored an 81, which is a B- at most schools, the survey grades on a curve, Binshtock says. "This survey is hard to do well on," she says. "It shows even the best school have a ways to go."

The list of the top 10 schools, as ranked by Sierra magazine, is below. For the full list, visit the Sierra Club's website.

1. University of Washington (Seattle, Wash.)
2. Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vt.)
3. University of California, San Diego (San Diego, Calif.)
4. Warren Wilson College (Asheville, N.C.)
5. Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)
6. University of California, Irvine (Irvine, Calif.)
7. University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, Calif.)
8. University of California, Davis (Davis, Calif.)
9. Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.)
10. Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)

--Kiah Lau Haslett

Reader Comments


August 17, 2011 2:01 PM

64% of students take a schools enviornmental stance into consideration when applying and attending. Give me a break. Maybe 6%.

Dave in Oregon

August 17, 2011 5:19 PM

@Frank - depends where you live and who you talk to. Don't assume the entire nation is just like you


August 19, 2011 5:12 PM

"The Princeton Review surveyed for its 2010 College Hopes & Worries Survey, 64 percent of respondents said they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment"

All this says is that they would "value having the information".

Geoff, you shouldn't stretch the facts.


August 21, 2011 2:21 PM

As a incoming senior, I can't promise you that the students are going to attend colleges due solely on the fact that the school is environmentally conscious. But it is something that never hurts and will improve someones opinion of the school. I was interested some of the schools on the list, and the ranking helps separate them from the rest of the "eco-friendly" schools.

Ellis Catanese

January 5, 2012 3:41 PM

Great Post:)

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