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August 15. 2013 1:31AM

UNH ranked in top 20 'cool schools' for sustainability

DURHAM — For the second year in a row, the University of New Hampshire has ranked in the top 20 "cool schools" rankings by Sierra magazine.

The seventh annual ranking rates how United States colleges and universities are helping to solve climate problems and make significant efforts to operate sustainability.

Although still in the top 20, UNH moved down to 14th on the 2013 list from sixth in 2012.

"We have been recognized by all of these lists for the last six or seven years, and it's really nice to be recognized for the leadership role that we play," said Sara Cleaves, associate director at the UNH Sustainability Institute.

She attributed UNH's lower slot in the rankings to the university's long-term commitment to sustainability, as she thinks sometimes Sierra likes to highlight new schools.

The University of Connecticut was the top ranked school followed by Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and University of California, Irvine. Green Mountain College in Vermont was ranked sixth and was the only other college in New England to make the top 10.

Although UCONN has been a longtime player in the campus sustainability movement, Cleaves said she noticed some other top colleges doing good work in sustainability that did not make the top 10.

Other New Hampshire colleges did not rank as well. Dartmouth College ranked 108th, followed by Plymouth State University ranking 150th out of 162 colleges and universities that participated.

Sierra magazine Lifestyle Editor Avital Andrews said they considered this year's participation rate a "rousing success."

"We were really happy with the fact that schools are making the effort to go through our really lengthy survey and respond, not just for our own sake, but to take the opportunity to measure all those things on campus," Andrews said.

She said academic institutions, full of young and progressive minds, are where solutions are going to be found for climate issues. Sierra recognized UCONN for offering more than 600 sustainability-related classes, reducing water use by 15 percent since 2005 and retrofitting 13 buildings over the past two years to prevent emission of 2,640 annual tons of carbon dioxide. At least a quarter of the food served in dining halls is processed within 100 miles of the campus, and many ingredients are harvested right on campus, according to Sierra's report.

Sierra sought campuses that are creating tangible change in various categories of "greenness," including what is served in dining halls, what is taught in lecture halls, what is powering dorms and what the universities are investing in.

One area where UNH ranked lower is investments, an issue some student groups have taken up on campus in the last year.

Cleaves said how the university invests endowment funds continues to be a discussion point, but said sometimes change is a slow process.

Areas where UNH continues to shine include energy efficiency and food sustainability.

The university is also investing in more courses and curriculum focused on sustainability issues, with more on the way, Cleaves said.

She said more and more students are looking at rankings like this when choosing a school, and more and more students are interested in sustainability.

"They want to be at a place that walks the talk and a rating system like 'Cool Schools' is an easy way for students to find that kind of information," Cleaves said. "And we're always honored the commitment we have made to sustainability is recognized by Sierra."

gmacalaster@newstote.com


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