We’re #1: Sierra Club Top 10 Coolest Schools

Shout it from the green rooftops (like the one on Laurel Hall), UConn ranked #1 in this year’s Sierra Club “Cool Schools” survey on America’s greenest colleges and universities! Since ranking in the top 50 in 2010, UConn has gone nowhere but up, recently climbing from 16th, to 5th and now 1st.  This success can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of many departments on campus, support from the state of Connecticut, individual and corporate donors to the Campus sustainability fund, as well as student involvement through groups such as EcoHusky and EcoHouse.

We are working hard to promote a culture of sustainability at UConn, so that sustainable behavior carries on into all facets of everyday life!  More than 40% of our research faculty does work that benefits the environment.  UConn offers almost 600 classes related to sustainability and has recently launched a new Environmental Studies major which will help bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers through interdisciplinary course work. Here at UConn, we not only want to make an impact on today’s world, but we also want to prepare the next generation to lead us into the future!

Future investments are important, but we also want to make an impact today.  Since 2005, UConn has reduced its water use on the main campus by 15% and has recently opened a reclaimed water facility that can repurpose water for heating and cooling.  UConn also opened a composting facility in 2010 which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and volume of waste as well as providing quality compost for the community.  A new microgrid is being installed at the depot campus and is expected to be operational by June of 2014.  This grid is not only a more sustainable power source, but will help the university and near-by communities deal with severe weather such as the super storms we have seen in the past few years.  UConn has also been very committed to green building by constructing LEED certified buildings (it’s University Policy for all new construction to be LEED Silver or better) and retro-commissioning and re-lamping many of our buildings.

My personal role as an intern at the OEP doesn’t often bring me close to these incredible technological advances or large investment projects.  My focus is the students and engaging the community in environmental awareness.  In that area, UConn has also excelled through a variety of annual and special events.  In the fall we work with ResLife to run EcoMadness, which is a month long competition in which students strive to reduce their energy and water usage by as much as possible.   We also work with the Athletics department in order to put on three Green Game Days throughout the year (one football and two basketball) where we encourage fans to recycle and try to make the games carbon neutral if possible.  In the Spring we run a sneaker collection drive where donated sneakers are shipped to needy children and teens in Africa through the student group Kicks for Africa.  Our biggest awareness event of the year is Earth Day Spring Fling where a variety of vendors come to campus and showcase how their businesses are sustainable.  Dining Services is also a huge contributor and they bring in local food for students and community members to enjoy as they check out the vendor tables.

From working on the survey myself, along with my fellow interns and sustainability coordinators, I can say that this accomplishment was no small feat.  It took hours of compiling research, fact checking previous submissions, and updating old information.  Getting the metrics for some categories was quite a chore as well, but we were determined to submit the most complete and accurate information available.  It was often difficult to balance working on the survey while still keeping up with our other tasks such as coordinating and running events.  This was especially true because the spring time is our busiest season.  All in all, it was a rough journey, but also gave us interns an opportunity to expand our knowledge of what happens here on our campus both in the public eye and behind the scenes.  Despite many challenges, our hard work paid off and we are now so proud to be #1.  Thanks especially to all of last year’s seniors who held off spring fever in order to accomplish this monumental task!  Great job UConn, keep up the awesome work!

– Katie Kelleher

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