Sierra Club ranks UConn No. 5 cool school

The Daily Campus || September 13, 2019

The Sierra Club ranked the University of Connecticut as their No. 5 top eco-friendly colleges, Katie O'Reilly, adventure and lifestyle editor of Sierra magazine, said.

Sierra Club, the United States’ oldest influential grassroots environmental advocacy group, has created a list of “The Top 20 Coolest Schools” for the past 13 years to recognize the institutions that “engage with the environmental movement,” O’Reilly said. Out of the 282 schools that applied, UConn gained one of the top spots.

UConn received a score of 83.76 out of 100, only 4.87 points lower than the No. 1 school. One of the reasons UConn received a high score is the new environmental literacy general education requirement.

“We've always been impressed with UConn's vast environmental course offerings, and we feel that as a large school mandating this type of education, UConn stands to make a tremendous impact in terms of environmental awareness and knowledge,” O’Reilly said.

Rich Miller, director of UConn’s sustainability office, said the new general education requirement requires that every UConn student must complete at least three credits of environmental coursework in order to graduate.

“That's a rare [general education] requirement for a major public research university and shows how UConn values the importance of understanding the relationship between humans and the environment in any endeavor,” Miller said.

Another reason UConn received its score is for its management of food waste, according to the website. As of this fall, all eight of UConn’s dining halls will send their food waste to be reincarnated as compost and fuel for electricity generation, Miller said.

“All eight of UConn's dining halls on campus will send kitchen and post-dining food waste to Quantum BioPower in Southington, Conn.,” Miller said. “This is a new anaerobic digester facility, managed by UConn alums, that accelerates decomposition in order to convert food waste into a fuel that powers an electrical generating facility...The Town of Southington [will use] the electricity generated.”

O’Reilly said that it is impressive to see a university creating a unique way to combat food waste.

“We love seeing such proactive, innovative solutions to carbon-intensive issues like food waste, and it's a big deal to see schools go out of their way to create opportunities for students to engage in the movement at such a high level and act as advocates for real, lasting change,” O’Reilly said.

Sierra Club is able to calculate the scores for the rankings from self-reports that the schools submit to the organization, O’Reilly said. The self-report includes a wide range of sustainability endeavors, such as transportation, water and energy use and disinvestment from fossil fuel interest. After the reports are collected, Sierra Club processes the data with their custom weighting formula to create their score, she said.

“For example, we give much more weight in the areas of energy, air and climate and transportation because the Sierra Club believes that progress in these sectors is essential for addressing the climate crisis,” O’Reilly said. “In the category of engagement, we give more weight to public engagement efforts, out of the belief that colleges and universities have a responsibility to encourage students to be civic actors in their communities. In the area of academics, we give relatively greater weight to curriculum over research.”

Miller said that the sustainability office is proud of getting a high rank, but they are going to continue to strive to be better.

“We only have one planet, so it's common sense,” Miller said. “If we practice, study and teach environmental stewardship, we can enjoy nature, meet our current needs and still have responsible economic growth, while also preserving natural resources so that future generations will be able to do the same.”