Sierra Club ranks ASU as 'coolest' university

The University ranked fourth last year for its sustainable practices, ahead of Cornell University and University of California, Irvine

ASU ranked first on Sierra Magazine’s 15th annual “coolest schools” ranking of today’s most sustainable colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada in early September.

The list considered a record 328 schools and took a deep look at how each one operated and devised new and innovative ways to reduce their schools’ ecological footprints. ASU ranked fourth on the list last year. 

“This is a testament to the commitment and hard work from across ASU to address the climate crisis," said Nichol Luoma, vice president of University Business Services and University sustainability operations officer. "We know that we are doing as much as we can to develop and implement climate solutions – it is appreciated to be recognized by others for that work."

The methodology used to rank the schools uses the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, which gave ASU a platinum rating last year.

ASU has been a leader in sustainable practices since it launched the country’s first School of Sustainability in 2006. Since then, the University has integrated eco-friendly practices in almost all of its operations.

Christopher Boone, dean of the College of Global Futures and professor in the School of Sustainability,  said the University’s “big tent approach” engages every single discipline, school and degree program at ASU. Iy is the only plausible way to achieve the goals the University has set for itself, Boone said.

ASU achieved its goal for carbon neutrality six years earlier than anticipated. The University also has 65 LEED-certified buildings. Seven buildings are platinum, 33 are gold, 24 are silver and one is LEED-certified. Luoma said 37% of the University’s total expenditures on food and drinks are plant-based foods.

Boone said everyone has played a role in the University’s achievements, but he mostly credits the recognition to those in the units that managed to document all of the work that had been taking place this past year. He said tracking all of the classes engaged with sustainability, purchasing and operations on every campus was a monumental undertaking.

“Being able to take a very large institution like ASU with 135,000 students and organize all these data points shows that we can have a real and tangible impact on our sustainability goals,” Boone said.

The Sierra Magazine highlighted multiple sustainable practices at ASU’s campuses. One was the launch of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, which houses two new programs that aim to serve the global community.

Another was ASU’s use of AI to lead a global initiative to map and monitor coral reefs around the world with nearly 90% accuracy. This significantly sped up and helped the effort to protect coral reefs.

READ MORE: Allen Coral Atlas provides breakthrough tools for coral reef conservation

The final example was a project at the Polytechnic campus to build habitats for burrowing owls as an extension the Garden Commons, a community garden that teaches students about urban gardening and creates a living laboratory.

“We are proud of our progress but there is more to do. We look forward to working with our partners from across ASU to expand our work in the learning outcome, professional development, food and dining, and engagement spaces in particular,” said Corey Hawkey, assistant director of University Sustainability Practices.

Hawkey said a new initiative under way at ASU is that students and staff have an opportunity to be more sustainable — and get a discounted Starbucks drink while doing it.

The nine Starbucks locations at ASU’s four campuses will now fill reusable cups of any kind — not just Starbucks cups. Customers who participate not only get 10 cents off each drink, they also get the fifth drink free. The pilot program began in late August and will run through Dec. 11.

The schools that finished behind ASU to make the top five on the list were the University of California, Irvine, Thompson Rivers University, Cornell University, and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, respectively.

“We are educating the next generation of leaders to provide skills to amplify the impact on these global scale issues,” Boone said. “Sustainability is absolutely vital to making sure that we have a future where it’s not just about survival, it’s about thriving.”


Reach the reporter at amley@asu.edu and follow @MartyLey_ on Twitter. 

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