Being Green: UMass Amherst Among Sierra Magazine’s ‘Top 20 Coolest Schools’

Record 300-plus colleges and universities participated in the annual sustainability ranking
The Olver Design Building
The Olver Design Building

The University of Massachusetts Amherst was named among Sierra magazine’s “Top 20 Coolest Schools 2020,” a list of the greenest colleges and universities in North America.

For its strong environmental ethos and wide-ranging sustainability efforts, UMass Amherst jumped to No. 15 on the 14th annual list from the Sierra Club’s national publication, up from No. 27 in 2019. Sierra received a record 312 submissions for this year’s survey. 

Despite the challenges of a pandemic, “…the schools on this list have shown incredible resourcefulness as they have innovated new ways to maintain – and in many cases, further – their sustainability objectives,” the Sierra states in announcing the Top 20 list on Monday, Sept. 28.

The rankings consider which schools offer the best sustainability-focused courses, ecofriendly dining options and carbon-neutral land and energy policies, as well as the most opportunities to engage with the green movement.

UMass Amherst’s School of Earth and Sustainabilitywas the first specialized sustainability school on the East Coast, and student leaders led the successful effort to make UMass Amherst the first major public university to divest from direct fossil fuel holdings.

“This ranking is an acknowledgement that the university maintains its commitment to educating students, conducting research and operating its facilities in a manner that promotes a sustainable future,” says Steve Goodwin, UMass Amherst deputy chancellor.

Sierra pointed to a range of programs and offerings at UMass Amherst to support its high ranking on the Coolest Schools list, including an MS in sustainable building systemsand a certificate in offshore wind energy. Sierra also gave a nod to the  UMass Clean Energy Corps, a student-centered initiative that works with towns and entities across the state to help them reduce emissions, and the UMass-based Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center.

Sierra notes UMass Amherst’s interdisciplinary green efforts, such asPaperbark Literary Magazine, a collaboration among the School of Earth and Sustainability, the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the UMass Libraries. Paperbark features prose, poetry, artwork and photography that explores and celebrates the crossroads between environmental sciences and the humanities.

Sierra’s ranking system is based on data from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s STARSself-reporting tool. Sierra uses the data to give the schools scores across 61 questions. The University of California, Irvine was ranked the No. 1 Cool School.