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University of Washington leads nation's 118 greenest schools

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California is home to many of the top-ranked schools on Sierra Magazine's 5th annual "Coolest Schools" list; 119 universities and colleges were considered.

UW volunteers sort recyclable and compostable material at the 2011 UW Trash-in. Photo credit: Alex Credgington

If your teenager is about to be a senior and has any sort of green sensibilities, you might want to direct him or her to the fifth annual "Coolest Schools" ranking of the nation's greenest and most sustainable colleges and universities by the Sierra Club. But be prepared: he or she might have to head west or north to fulfill that aspect of their college wish-list criteria.

The University of Washington in Seattle tops this year's list, based on its wide support for campus-wide programs focused on environmental sustainability. Those include the Center for Sustainable Forestry and the Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health. Approximately 90 percent of the campus electricity is generated by hydropower.

Said the university's president, Michael Young:

"We take great pride in the leadership the university has shown in reducing our impact on the environment and operating as sustainably as we know how. Many students, faculty and staff have worked tremendously hard over the years to accomplish these goals, and it is very gratifying to see their commitment and effort rewarded by this outstanding recognition from Sierra Magazine. It's a great No. 1 position to hold."

The factors contributing to each school's ranking in Sierra Magazine included overall efficiency, energy, food sourcing, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments and other initiatives.

Aside from the programs already mentioned, the University of Washington is in the middle of a project to install smart meters and energy management technology at two residence halls and two research buildings or academic buildings. The $9.6 million project will be used as the foundation for managing energy consumption more closely across campus. The school also has a fleet of more than 300 alternative fule vehicles, powered by hybrid, electric and biodiesel sources.

Here are the top 20 schools that made Sierra's list of 118 ranked colleges and universities this year:

  1. University of Washington (Seattle)
  2. Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vt.)
  3. University of California (San Diego)
  4. Warren Wilson College (Asheville, N.C.)
  5. Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)
  6. University of California (Irvine)
  7. University of California (Santa Cruz)
  8. University of College (Davis)
  9. Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.)
  10. Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)
  11. University of New Hampshire (Durham, N.H.)
  12. Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.)
  13. Colby College (Waterville, Me.)
  14. Western Washington University (Bellingham, Wash.)
  15. University of California (Los Angeles)
  16. University of Connecticut (Storrs, Conn.)
  17. Clark University (Worcester, Mass.)
  18. Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.)
  19. Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Me.)
  20. University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)

What I love about the Sierra ranking is that it doesn't just consider the actual operational policies of the universities and colleges that apply for consideration, it also includes whether or not the school is teaching its students to go forth and be more sustainable citizens of the world through strong academic disciplines in sustainability. Related posts:

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure