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4 California Colleges Ranked Among Nation's Greenest Schools

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Rows of bicycles are parked on the campus of UC Santa Barbara, where 94% of students take alternative means of transportation. (sleepymeko/Flickr)
Rows of bicycles are parked on the campus of UC Santa Barbara, where 94 percent of students take alternative means of transportation. (sleepymeko/Flickr)

Trayless dining halls, LEED-certified buildings and alternative energy sources are increasingly getting attention  at college campuses across the country. Students aren’t just looking for schools with good sports teams anymore. Now environmental consciousness is part of the equation.

A new ranking from Sierra magazine lists some of the greenest of them all, and you might not be surprised to see several California schools ranked highly.

UC Irvine (3), UC Davis (4), Stanford (7) and UC Santa Barbara (10) are all top-10 colleges on the magazine’s environmental list, which takes into account factors like where a school gets its power, how environmentalism is incorporated into the curriculum and what kind of food is served in the dining halls.

What gives California schools an edge in the rankings? It’s something in the ethos of the state, says Avital Andrews, Sierra magazine’s lifestyle editor.

“(California schools) really pay attention to their water use and their energy use," she says. "It’s easier to get outside here in the winter, so schools encourage students to get outdoors at all times of the year and farm the campus farms or do trash pickups.”


Some highlights from each school:

  • UC Irvine: Of all the California schools, Irvine was at the top, coming in third nationally. The university has saved 20 million kilowatt-hours
 of electricity per year since 2009 through the use of a co-generation facility and other energy-preserving projects. It also has a 16-acre botanical garden, and Meatless Mondays are strongly encouraged.
  • UC Davis: An agricultural education powerhouse, the research done at UC Davis helps shape national and statewide water laws. The school is considered a leader on best practices in farming. It's also home to America’s biggest zero-net-energy community, where students and faculty can live. An action plan on cutting emissions to levels below year 2000 is also in effect.
  • Stanford: The school has raised more than $430 million for the Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability, and a big chunk of that money will go toward a new energy facility that will cut its carbon emissions in half. Water use has already been cut by 20 percent. There are more than 700 sustainability-related classes, and a student is unlikely to graduate without having taken at least one course that touches on ecoliteracy.
  • UC Santa Barbara: UCSB has 44 LEED-certified buildings. Forty-seven percent of its academic departments offer a class on sustainability, totaling about 300. Half of the food served at dining halls is local. Seventy-five percent of waste gets diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting. And biking is huge. Ninety-four percent of students take alternative means of transit to class.

The magazine also focused this year on the impact environmentally-friendly polices have on students.

“The people who graduate do end up recycling, composting, growing their own vegetables, doing the things that they saw happen around them at college,” says Andrews. “To them, it’s just normal.”

Though more and more schools are taking green measures, Andrews notes that there is still plenty of room for growth. Out of the 1,000-point scale Sierra uses, the highest-ranking school, University of Connecticut, scored 850.14.

“There’s always a cost to running an institution, but I would say probably the biggest opportunity for schools to do better next year is where they get their power,” Andrews says.

Read the full report here.

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