How University of Connecticut became the ‘Coolest School’ in the U.S.

How University of Connecticut became the ‘Coolest School’ in the U.S.

Last year's “Coolest School” as decided by Sierra magazine was University of California-Davis, and while it drops to No. 4 this year, University of Connecticut takes the lead.

This is the seventh year Sierra magazine, published by the Sierra Club, ranked more than 2,000 U.S. colleges on their progress on operating sustainably.

Sierra ranks colleges on all the factors you'd expect: the food they serve in dining halls, the energy powering the campus, how they handle waste, their purchasing policies and their financial investments.

Whether it's Cornell's minor in climate change or American University's new campus-wide composting program, schools are taking big steps, Sierra says.

The top schools for 2013 are:

1. University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT)

2. Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA)

3. University of California, Irvine (Irvine, CA)

4. University of California, Davis (Davis, CA)

5. Cornell University (Ithaca, NY)

6. Green Mountain College (Poultney, VT)

7. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

8. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)

9. American University (Washington, DC)

10. University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, CA)

The University of Connecticut, with more than 22,000 students, stands out for offering more than 600 sustainability-related courses in areas ranging from engineering to law; running bike-sharing and car-sharing programs; and taking care of 2,000 acres of preserved forestland.

Many ingredients served in its dining halls are harvested right on campus: Honey comes from campus apiaries, fresh eggs from the agriculture department and seasonal produce from student-run gardens. A third of the meal options are vegetarian and more than a quarter of the food is sourced within 100 miles.

UConn has extensive recycling that recovers everything from food and landscaping waste to consumer goods such as used sneakers, appliances and electronics, says its blog.

Other initiatives at UConn include:

A $30 million reclaimed water facility opened this year, the first of its kind in the region. By treating up to 1 million gallons of wastewater a day it will conserve 500,000 gallons of potable water, and the treated water will be used in the university's on-campus power plant.

A detailed Climate Action Plan, which helped guide efficiency improvements at nearly 100 campus buildings in recent years.

A fuel cell and solar-powered microgrid supplies energy for its Depot Campus, and an ongoing program is replacing the oldest gas- and diesel-powered vehicles with electric and hybrid ones.

Extensive use of rain gardens, green roofs and porous paving materials to manage stormwater runoff and improve water quality in nearby rivers and streams.

A Vendor Code of Conduct establishes a preference for doing business with companies that employ best practices for sustainability.

In 2010, the school ranked No. 49 and last year it moved up to No. 5. It’s also ranked as the top university worldwide this year on Universitas Indonesia's GreenMetric World Ranking.

University of Connecticut image by Michael Mattox via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News and is reprinted with permission.