The University of Colorado at Boulder is ranked the top "green" university in the nation this year by Sierra magazine in its September/October edition, a move up from second place in 2008.
Universities trailing CU-Boulder in the top five are the University of Washington at Seattle, Middlebury College, the University of Vermont and the College of the Atlantic. In the report's three-year history, CU-Boulder remains the only Colorado institution to appear in the Top 10 featured lineup of "eco-enlightened" U.S. colleges.
Results were compiled from a 39-question survey measuring sustainable practices and initiatives in the categories of academics, administration, efficiency, energy, food, purchasing, transportation and waste management. Bonus points, of which CU-Boulder received five, were possible for "green" activities not covered by the questionnaire. CU-Boulder came out strongest in the areas of transportation and waste management and its overall score was 100 -- the highest possible rating -- according to the evaluation performed by the official magazine of the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest environmental nonprofit.
"This ranking is not a surprise, but it is a wonderful tribute to the hard work of our students, faculty, staff and administrators," said Phil DiStefano, chancellor of CU-Boulder. "Over the course of the last nearly six decades they have made sustainability a campus priority, and have done the hard work to make it a reality."
The Sierra feature article includes a contribution by CU-Boulder senior Dan Omasta, an environmental studies and political science major, who highlights the founding of the student-led Environmental Center in 1970 and the alternative transportation options available to students including bus passes, the ski bus and a free bike-share program. Omasta also mentions CU-Boulder's use of biofuels in university vehicles.
"This award arises out of many tough decisions, numerous partnerships, and some very smart policies," said Frank Bruno, vice chancellor for administration at CU-Boulder. "Our commitment to sustainability is long-standing, and it is renewed by the fresh ideas of our students and our employees, and the commitment of the chancellor and the leadership of the campus."
CU-Boulder's leadership in sustainability spans nearly six decades with rigorous academic offerings in the Environmental Studies Program as well as the integration of environmental studies into other fields including architecture and planning, business, law, journalism and others. CU-Boulder offers 14 degree programs, nine majors and four certificate programs in or related to environmental studies.
CU-Boulder is renowned for the ongoing pursuit of technical and policy advancements through faculty research at numerous institutes and centers including the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, the Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels, the Center for Research and Education in Wind and others. Several CU-Boulder research faculty from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for their contributions to the international report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
CU-Boulder is tops in the nation in the number of scientific publications on environmental research. And it is one of the nation's top three universities in receiving funding for environmental research, according to the National Science Foundation.
Also considered in the Sierra analysis were CU-Boulder's commitment to LEED efficiency standards in campus building renovations and all new construction, the "Ralphie's Green Stampede" initiative that transformed Folsom Field into a zero-waste facility in 2008 and extensive student-operated recycling that dates back to 1973.
"The students of the University of Colorado are the heart and soul of our sustainability efforts and have been leaders in environmental stewardship for nearly 60 years," said Dave Newport, director of CU's Environmental Center. "The partnerships among administrators, students, faculty and staff build on that commitment and extend it across campus. While I have no doubt that any of the top 20 campuses mentioned in Sierra's ranking are worthy of a No. 1 rating, I think the award recognizes CU's 60-year history of cooperative synergies as the symbol of true environmental leadership."
CU-Boulder's most recent administrative push toward sustainability comes with the drafting of a four-phase strategy for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next 40 years. Work on the draft has been under way since CU signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment in February 2007. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's "Greening of State Government" executive order issued in April 2007 complements CU's climate action planning but the climate action plan exceeds the governor's charge in a number of areas including the "Sustainability Action Teams" formed in June by Bruno.
"CU-Boulder's past achievements in sustainability are exciting, but for us, they merely represent inspiration to achieve even greater things in the future," DiStefano said. "The governor's challenge to us and to our Sustainability Action Teams is the kind of opportunity we relish to rally our community."
Teams comprised of faculty, staff and students will focus on data collection, energy and water, materials and recycling in gathering information, creating and implementing programs to reach the stated goals.
"We have a legacy of leadership here that is constantly looking ahead to the next milestone," Newport said. "The Sustainability Action Teams will help us take sustainability to the next level, further innovating the kinds of permanent practices that match our permanent culture of environmental action."
An internal review of CU-Boulder's draft plan is currently under way and a public release is expected this fall.