‘Green’ rankings reveal room for improvement at University

In September, “Sierra,” the Sierra Club’s bimonthly magazine, published its third annual ranking of “planet-preserving colleges and universities.” The University of Oregon was ranked at 25.

There are many lists that rank the environmental stature of colleges based on multiple sources, and the University’s grades on all of them are below the highest level.

The Princeton Review and published similar green rankings and grades for national universities in 2009. The University did not make the Princeton Review’s top 15 schools on the “Green Honor Roll,” where it ranked number 14 last year.’s standards gave the University a “B” in its ranking of “green schools,” a rise from last year’s grade. Sierra has not ranked the University in either of its previous lists, but 2009’s is the first to include more than 10 schools.

The disparities between ranks lead the school’s environmental community to doubt the methods used to grade each college.

Steve Mital, director of the University’s Office of Sustainability, puts little weight on these rankings. “It’s impossible to produce a ranking of such individually diverse schools,” Mital said. “Each school’s sustainability efforts grow out of organic, original ideas … ‘happy accidents.'”

Sierra’s evaluation was based on questionnaires sent out to “sustainability experts” at schools nationwide that asked the recipient to grade their school on a 1-10 scale in eight comprehensive categories: efficiency, energy, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management and administration.

The University’s highest-ranked category on the Sierra charts was “energy” at nine out of 10 points, and the lowest was “food,” at 5.5. Yet when ranked by, the University received an “A” for Food & Recycling.

According to a Princeton Review survey, nearly 2/3 of college applicants say they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment. In addition, 24 percent of these students said the information would impact their decision to apply or to attend the school.

Brian Henley, director of admissions, said that the Office of Admissions began emphasizing the environmentally responsible aspects of the University to prospective students four years ago. “Over the past years, we’ve seen an increasing number of prospective students citing their personal environmental concerns and the strengths of the University’s environmental leadership as their reasons for applying to the University,” Henley said. He has also noticed this theme in application essays, e-mail contacts and one-on-one conversations between admissions staff and potential students.

Although the admissions office does not have data indicating the influence of the University’s eco-friendly nature on prospective students, Henley said it is often on the minds of students choosing a college. The admissions office is also working on a new outreach campaign for applicants, and recently added a “Sustainability at the UO” page to its Web site.

Independent of rankings, student interest in green-friendly schools is an inevitably
growing trend.

“The next generation of students cares deeply about stopping global warming, and schools that take the initiative to become environmentally responsible are doing the right thing for the planet and are better poised to attract the best students,” Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said.

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