Ivy League colleges rank number one in a lot of categories, but it seems environmental sustainability isn't one of them. Sierra Magazine just put out their ninth annual Cool Schools list after surveying over 150 colleges and universities across the U.S. about their environmentally-friendly initiatives -- and none of the Ivies even made the top 20.
MTV News caught up with Avital Andrews, the Lifestyle editor of Sierra and co-creator of the list, to discuss how colleges and universities are changing the game when it comes to sustainability, and how students -- even before they get to college -- are driving those changes.
"A recent Princeton review survey found that 60 percent of high school students who are considering where to apply or enroll in college take into account whether a college has environmental sustainability as one of its top priorities," Andrews told MTV News. "Sustainability is now on par with social life as one of the big factors that students consider." And that seems to hold true whether they're choosing a small liberal arts college or one of the nation's biggest public universities.
Who Made It Into The Top 10?
Here are the top 10 on this year's list:
1. University of Calfornia, Irvine (29,000+ students)
2. University of California, Davis (35,000+ students)
3. University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh (13,000+ students)
4. Colorado State University (31,000+ students)
5. Oberlin College (2,900+ students)
6. University of Connecticut (31,000+ students)
7. University of California, San Diego (31,000+ students)
8. University of Washington (44,500+ students)
9. Lewis & Clark College (2,000+ students)
10. University of California, Berkeley (37,000+ students)
Four University of California schools made it onto this year's top ten, which Andrews said is in part because the University of California system as a whole has resolved to go carbon neutral by the year 2025. UC Irvine came in at number one for the second year in a row.
Schools opt into getting ranked on the yearly list by completing an extensive survey that was co-developed by the Sierra Club, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and the Princeton Review. The nearly 500 page-long survey includes questions about a campus's carbon footprint and recycling policies, as well as the role environmentalism plays in their course offerings and overall culture.
"A school's carbon footprint is hugely important," Andrews said, "but we're also looking at water conservation, trash diversion, and academics -- are their students graduating with a clear understanding of environmental problems and how to solve them?"
Answering Every Single Question You Could Think Of
"It’s literally every possible question you could think of to ask about a school’s sustainability," she continued. "Every school has its unique challenges and unique blessings, and how they deal with them is more of what we’re looking at."
Andrews also pointed out that colleges and universities tend to operate on the "cutting edge" of green technologies, mostly thanks to their students.
"A lot of these things [addressed in the survey] look like they were administrative decisions," Andrews said, "but it's actually because the students on campus have rallied, and gotten together and communicated to their administration that this is vitally important to them."
From Poop To Table, Using Every Resource Available
"And this is not only the students already in college," Andrews continued. "This is a really important issue to the high school students these schools are trying to attract, and if they want to keep attracting the best and brightest, they know that they’ll have to make it an attractive environment...in every sense of the word."
Andrews reported that universities are starting to source their energy from not only wind, solar, and water, but also more surprising places -- for example, many schools are now using "biodigesters" on campus to turn organic waste from food into energy. Green Mountain College in Vermont, which ranked number 12 on this year's list, even has a "Cow Power" program that converts methane from manure on Vermont dairy farms into energy.
It's worth noting that out of the over 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in the U.S., only 153 completed the survey, so some schools that do a lot for the environment might not be included. Of the eight Ivy League schools, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Brown, and Dartmouth opted into this year's ranking while Yale and Princeton did not. Of the Ivy Leagues, Brown came in last, falling at number 116, and Cornell ranked highest at 26.
Being #1 Doesn't Mean You're Perfectly Green
She also pointed out that even at number one, UC Irvine only scored an 859.75 out of a possible 1,000 points on the survey, which "proves that even the best school in the country can still improve."
"We’ve had schools tell us that they make sustainability decisions with our ranking in mind as one of the outcomes," Andrews said. "Of course the best outcome is protecting the environment, but they also have getting a better ranking as an incentive to make green decisions...that actually makes a real-world difference at these colleges and in their communities, and we’re pretty proud of that."