Rankings are always tricky. Particularly when it comes to how green one college or university is compared to another. There are so many factors to consider—the use of renewable energy, the size of the campus, the environmental educational offerings, the local food options in the cafeteria… For its third annual top 20 list of "coolest" schools—referring to efforts to combat global warming—Sierra Magazine used a survey that covered eight categories: efficiency, energy, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management and administration. Schools could earn up to 10 points in each category, and up to five bonus points if they had additional green initiatives.
According to the magazine"s measurements, University of Colorado at Boulder ranked first, followed by the University of Washington at Seattle, Middlebury College, University of Vermont and College of the Atlantic. While none of these are surprising choices, the whole notion of comparing "greenness" rankled commenters, either because their own worthy schools were omitted, or there was a perceived vagueness among how these categories were decided. For instance, wouldn"t a small, easily walkable campus trump in transportation one that merely offered bike sharing? Not apparently.
To put a finer point on it, Greenopia came out with their own green ranking—although theirs focused specifically on the 100 largest universities and looked at green building design, renewable energy, green food options, waste programs, alternative fuel vehicles, water conservation and environmental reporting. University of Washington topped the list thanks to recycling and composting efforts, green buildings and water conservation, followed by University of California, Santa Barbara, University of Oregon, University of California, Davis and Colorado State University.
The more important lesson may not be who"s winning or whose list is more authentic, but the fact that so many schools are now in the running. Of course, the schools are really responding to a new level of green interest among students. Two-thirds of university applicants now say that a school’s environmental report card would influence whether they’d enroll, according to a survey by the test-prep company Princeton Review.
Carl Pope, the Sierra Club"s executive director, says, "The next generation of students cares deeply about stopping global warming, and schools that take the initiative to become environmentally responsible are doing the right thing for the planet and are better poised to attract the best students."