Sierra Magazine Ranks UMass Amherst No.7 among North America’s ‘Cool Schools’

Harvest at the Umass Amherst student farm.
Harvest at the Umass Amherst student farm.

AMHERST, Mass.–Sierra magazine, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, has placed the University of Massachusetts Amherst at No. 7 in its 12th annual “Cool Schools” ranking of North America’s greenest colleges and universities.

Released today, the 2018 rankings show UMass Amherst jumped into the top 10 from No. 58 last year. Sierra received submissions from a record 269 schools in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

Using a newly customized scoring system, Sierra’s researchers ranked the universities on academic criteria, like environmentally focused curriculum; engagement, such as campus activism; operations, like on-campus recycling and waste management; and on planning and administrative standards.

According to a Sierra news release, “Each of the schools ranked in the top 20 has displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues and encouraging environmental responsibility.”

Steve Goodwin, UMass Amherst deputy chancellor, said, “The ranking is especially welcome because it recognizes the broad scope of the flagship campus’s commitment to responsible stewardship of the environment today while training the scientists, engineers and managers who will embrace the challenges of sustainability and climate change into the future.”

Recent actions by UMass Amherst to address environmental issues include creation of the School of Earth and Sustainability; installation of the largest solar power project of any college in New England; the design and construction of the John W. Olver Design Building, which is the largest and most technologically advanced academic contemporary wood structure in the U.S., and the decision to be the first major public university to divest its endowment from direct holdings in fossil fuels.

In June, the university was awarded a "gold" rating in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) program, which recognizes sustainability accomplishments in areas such as academics, research, engagement, operations and administration. The university was No. 9 among doctorate granting institutions in the U.S., a 20-place jump from the previous ranking in 2015.

The latest “Cool Schools” ranking system was developed in consultation with AASHE and based on STARS scores. The data was processed and weighted toward Sierra Club priorities.

Jason Mark, Sierra magazine’s editor in chief, said, “We stay inspired by the creative and innovative ways colleges and universities across North America are working to tackle the climate crisis and move toward a sustainable future.”

Karissa Gerhke, national director of the Sierra Student Coalition, said, “Young people are leading the fight against the climate crisis and toward a 100 percent sustainable future. … The Sierra Student Coalition applauds these leaders and their schools for their innovation and leadership, and we look forward to working with them as they continue to do this important work.”

The top spot in the 2018 Cool School rankings is shared by the University of California, Irvine, and Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont.