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ESF No. 2 on Sierra Magazine’s ‘Cool Schools’ List for 2016

Improvements in water, innovation, planning and fossil-fuel divestment push College up 102 spots from last year
9/6/2016

Sophomore Kiera Hyacinthe is featured in the Sierra Club

ESF is ranked among the nation's top "Cool Schools" by Sierra magazine, the national magazine of the Sierra Club. In a list made public today (Sept. 6, 2016), Sierra puts the college at Number 2 among 200 schools surveyed.

"These are the colleges working hardest to protect the planet in 2016," the magazine says in its September/October issue.

The ranking comes just two months after ESF earned a STARS Gold Rating in recognition of its sustainability efforts from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The Gold Rating is the second-highest distinction in the STARS system and ESF's score puts it among the top 15 performing colleges and universities nationally.

In the Sierra survey, ESF scored 735.23 points out of 1,000, second only to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, which scored 783.41.

In describing the accomplishment, the magazine states, "It's surprising that SUNY-ESF hasn't breached Sierra's top 10 before now, considering its name. This upstate school leaped 102 spots from its place in last year's ranking, improving markedly in the categories of water, innovation, and planning. Many students are engaged in campus greening efforts, and 25 percent of classes are sustainability-related, netting SUNY-ESF a high academics score, too. Clinching its rise, the school announced last December that it would no longer include fossil fuel companies in its endowment portfolio."

"I am delighted by this national recognition of the fantastic work being done by ESF faculty, students, and staff that keeps our campus on the front lines of the creation of a sustainable future," said ESF President Quentin Wheeler. "From our dedicated physical plant staff to our campus-wide sustainability committee, ESF student organizations, and diverse research by faculty and graduate students, ESF continues to push the boundaries of what is possible. ESF has earned this recognition over many years. It's based on the effort by both the talented people who are working on these critical issues today and the many who spent decades building the foundation for this success. Now it's up to us to live up to the high values it signifies."

Not only is ESF the highest-ranked college in the SUNY system, it also outranks all private colleges and universities in New York state.

SUNY Cortland leads other SUNY institutions at Number 55. Additional SUNY institutions making the top 100 are the University at Albany, the University at Buffalo and Binghamton University.

"The State University of New York strives to be one of the most energy-smart and environmentally friendly university systems in the world, and ESF's contributions toward this goal are highly commendable," said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. "Congratulations to President Wheeler and the entire campus community on this much-deserved national recognition."

The highest-ranked private institution in the state is Colgate University at Number 21, followed by other New York schools including Cornell University, Clarkson, St. John's University, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Columbia University.

More than 200 schools participated in Sierra's extensive survey about sustainability practices on their campus. Using an updated, customized scoring system, Sierra's researchers ranked each university based on its demonstrated commitment to upholding high environmental standards.

"Each of the schools ranked in the top 20 have displayed a strong commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate change, and encouraging sustainability," the magazine said in a news release.

The raw data for the scoring came from the STARS self-reporting tool. Sierra scored the information across 64 questions.

The scoring methodology was updated this year to reflect trends in campus sustainability. In the past, schools were recognized simply for conducting audits and surveys of their sustainability operations. But since the Cool Schools rankings began 10 years ago and sustainability values have been incorporated broadly in higher education, Sierra now looks for measurable progress.

"This year is the tenth anniversary of the Cool Schools rankings and we are thrilled by the record number of schools that participated. This huge response shows that colleges are taking the lead on addressing climate change," said Jason Mark, Sierra's editor in chief. "We're seeing schools commit to renewable energy purchasing, buying electric vehicles for their campus fleets, reducing their water usage, offering organic food in the cafeterias and offering dozens of environmental studies courses. These schools are instilling in the minds of their students the importance of adopting conservation values in their day-to-day activities."

The 2016 rankings have a slightly different emphasis. This year, a question having to do with energy and transportation carries more weight than ever before-a reflection of the fact that global climate change is the most pressing environmental threat today. A question regarding institutions' investments in fossil fuel companies also greatly impacted schools' final scores. The Sierra Club and its Sierra Student Coalition believe that fossil fuel divestment is an important strategy for transitioning to a 100 percent clean energy economy.

"I'm so inspired to see the incredible progress that colleges and universities are making when it comes to environmental sustainability," said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. Sierra magazine's Cool Schools rankings help to recognize those schools that have made sustainability a key part of their mission, and are creating future environmental leaders."

The full ranking of 202 colleges, including each school's completed questionnaire, can be found online at www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.