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20 'cool' schools for 2014

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On a list not dominated by the Ivies or pricey liberal arts colleges, the Sierra Club recently named America’s “coolest” schools as top stewards of the environment for their “commitment to making earth-saving decisions.”

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For its 6th annual list of “cool schools,” the Sierra Club worked with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI), and the Princeton Review to develop a questionnaire made available online to all 4-year undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States. In the past, each organization had its own survey and ranking.

The new longer questionnaire produced a noticeable shift in school rankings, which in previous years were totally dominated by west coast colleges. New schools appeared such as Ohio’s Oberlin College which was acknowledged for extending their “green reach” into neighboring communities.

“[T]he magazine’s ranking aims to act as a guide for prospective students who seek a way to compare colleges based on their commitment to environmentalism,” explained Robert Cuttino, of Sierra Magazine. “It also serves to spur competition, create aspirational standards, and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet.”

Survey questions centered on environmental goals and achievements. Schools were asked about education/research, energy, transportation, waste, purchasing, investing, and innovation. The resulting “coolest school” ranking is an index that provides comparative information about the most important elements of campus sustainability.

Although not among the top 20, several local colleges and universities took the trouble to complete the massive survey and made appearances on the list including Virginia Commonwealth University (21), George Washington University (27), George Mason University (34), Frostburg State University (66), the University of Richmond (69), the University of Maryland (73), and Roanoke College (94). Their complete responses are provided on the Sierra Club website.

As sustainability continues to be an important consideration for college-bound high school students, these surveys provide a glimpse of campus efforts on the green front.

According to Sierra Magazine, the top 20 coolest schools are:

  • University of California, Davis
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • University of Washington
  • University of Connecticut
  • University of New Hampshire
  • Duke University
  • Yale University
  • University of California, Irvine
  • Appalachian State University
  • Green Mountain College
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
  • Cornell University
  • Grand Valley State University
  • UC San Diego
  • Harvard University
  • Warren Wilson College
  • UC Berkeley
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