From Green Right Now Reports

For the past 7 years, Sierra magazine has ranked the “Coolest Schools” in the U.S.

Farming at the University of Connecticut, the No. 1 Cool School.

Farming at the University of Connecticut, the No. 1 Cool School. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

This has nothing to do with the concentration of hipsters or chilled beer kegs on campus, however. It’s all about cooling the planet and applauding the colleges that are taking major strides toward fighting climate change and resource depletion by reducing their carbon footprint.

The contest rates the participating schools on a wide range of programs, giving points for waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation, green power, verifiable carbon emissions reductions, energy efficient buildings, local food programs, sustainability course offerings, sustainability “literacy” and research into carbon-lowering strategies that can be used on campus and in the wider world.

The University of Connecticut, which won this year’s top spot, has embedded green ideas in its curriculum and daily activities, according to Sierra magazine which today released its rankings of 162 participating schools.

UConn offers nearly 600 sustainability-related classes, which are taught by a faculty that’s focused on the environmental  aspects of  research that spans many topics.

Cool School 2, Solar at Dickinson College

Installing a solar panel at Dickinson College, the No. 2 Cool School. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

The Sierra contest gives a lot of weight to a college’s green curricula because, as Sierra blogger Avital Andrew says, “the most powerful renewable energy resource these campuses generate is freshly educated young people.”

In addition, UConn has cut its water use by 15 percent in two years, retrofitted 13 buildings to be more energy efficient and converted its cafeteria menu options to be 30 percent vegetarian (because commercial livestock production contributes heavily to carbon pollution and forest loss). Some of the food is harvested on campus and more than 25 percent is processed locally.

What’s more, the University of Connecticut has risen on the Cool Schools list from No. 49 three years ago, showing that any campus can transform itself into a green community if chooses to make sustainability a priority.

Campus size also is no hindrance to going all out for the planet. Tiny Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, is the No. 2 Cool School this year. It has a student population of just 2,380, but has been pursuing big plans for recycling and energy reduction for several years.

Since  2006 Dickinson students have been collecting grease from local restaurants to power the campus vehicles. The school aims to be carbon neutral (net zero emissions) by 2020, and has already bought enough wind power to offset all its electrical use. It has also reduced its paper consumption by 60 percent since 2009, an issue some campuses are still just beginning to address.

Other campuses on the 2013 top 10 list include several that appear perennially near the top of the Cool School rankings. These  include the University of California at Davis (#4)…at Irvine (#3) and at  Santa Barbara.

UC Irvine students study Mono Lake, and how to save it.

UC Irvine students study Mono Lake, and how to save it. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

UC Irvine is a hot bed of green energy experimentation, with solar panels, a 19 megawatt cogeneration facility and a requirement that all new buildings be Silver LEED certified by the US Green Building Council.

UC Davis, which was last year’s No. 1, is known for agricultural research and its on-campus farmer’s market. The school diverts 60 percent of its trash from the landfill and is aiming for 100 percent diversion by 2020.

UC Santa Barbara boasts 44 LEED certified buildings and 321 classes pertaining to sustainability. About half of the food served is grown locally (albeit by leveraging the California advantage) and 75 percent of the waste is diverted to recycling and composting.

These campuses have shown a consistent commitment to green living, as have others that made the Top 10 this year, such as Green Mountain College (#6) American University (#9) and Georgia Institute of Technology (#8).

Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT, bases its entire curriculum on environmental sustainability, and has already achieved carbon neutrality with the help of a biomass plant that burns local wood chips, heating and powering much of the small campus of 637 students. It also powers itself via methane from cow waste, a green two-fer that harnesses methane gases instead of letting them rise into the atmosphere.

Georgia Tech in Atlanta is a Tree Campus USA, a builder of energy efficient LEED certified buildings and a believer in mass transit. Students car pool, ride natural gas-powered buses and bike to the urban campus of 21,000 students. In addition, students have been recycling for a couple decades, diverting 600 tons of waste annually.

American University won plaudits for its campus-wide composting program and its goal to be carbon neutral by 2020. The university of 12,700 students, nestled in the nation’s capital, was last year’s RecycleMania national champion and also counts 30 buildings on track for LEED silver designation.

Cool School 5 Cornell

Cornell students collecting recyclables. (Photo: Sierra magazine)

Just one Ivy League college made this year’s Top Ten (though Harvard University put in a respectable appearance at #15).

Cornell University (#5), which can now lay claim to being the greenest Ivy (per Sierra anyway), makes a return appearance in the Top 10. The Ithaca, NY, university offers 340 sustainability-related classes across many disciplines as well as a minor in climate change. The campus has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050 and has recently added 1 million square feet of new buildings without increasing energy consumption, due to energy reduction programs.  Cornell students also grow food at a campus farm, where they also try out sustainable agriculture techniques, an exercise vital to those studying agriculture, forest and land management at this land grant college.

Stanford University (#7) also makes a return appearance on the list, cited for its plans for a new energy facility that will halve campus’ carbon emissions and reduce water use by 20 percent. This selective university has only about 15,000 undergraduates and graduates, but still offers about 700 sustainability-related classes. “The Farm” as it’s known, has its own farm for local food production, as well as an ambitious food reclamation program that involves donating excess to hunger relief.

Check for your school on the full listing at