Focus, Higher Education, and Sustainability

Grand Valleys efforts earn green recognition

August 27, 2012
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Grand Valley State University can add a first to its list of ecological accomplishments and can now count itself as one of the nation’s “coolest schools.”

A Sierra Club-sponsored survey recently declared GVSU placed 16th of 96 schools in the nation as one of the country’s greenest universities. GVSU also is the highest-ranking Michigan institution that made it on the list. Other Michigan colleges and universities that participated in the assessment were Aquinas College (ranked 41) and the University of Michigan (ranked 59).

It marks the first time GVSU made it on the Sierra Club’s annual list of “Coolest Schools,” a list that ranks schools that have a strong commitment to environmental improvement, are helping to solve climate problems and are making significant efforts to operate sustainably, all of which is based on criteria the university submitted to the environmental organization in 2011.

The Sierra Club’s rankings are based on a point system, with 895 the highest; GVSU came in at 585 points, said Norman Christopher, director of GVSU’s sustainability initiative department.

“For us, this is a very robust assessment,” said Christopher. “It indicates what we’re doing well and what we can do better. It’s a very transparent list of information.”

The top three universities or colleges were the University of California (709 points), Georgia Institute of Technology (704 points), and Stanford University (681). The entire list can be viewed at www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201209/coolschools/complete-rankings-cool-schools.aspx

“To place high, schools had to rock every one of our survey’s categories, from waging war on emissions to serving sustainable foods to teaching a verdant curriculum,” according to the Sierra Club’s website. “None was perfect — our top school, the University of California at Davis— garnered 708.8 out of a possible 894.5 points. That said, we’re tough graders and our survey … explains why only 96 qualified institutions took the time to answer our questions.”

Questions GVSU responded to include whether it has implemented technologies or strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of snow and ice removal (yes); if it has an occupied, formally designated model room in a residence hall that is open to students during regular hours and demonstrates sustainable living principles (no); and if it has a post-consumer food waste composting program (yes).

The Cool Schools ranking was open to all four-year undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States, of which the Sierra Club received 96 completed responses. Campus administrators participated by going to www.stars.aashe.org to complete an extensive questionnaire about their school's sustainability practices.

Once schools submitted their data, an independent researcher scored each school's response and ranked all the participating schools, according to the Sierra Club’s website. There was no cost to participate.

The survey, officially dubbed the Campus Sustainability Data Collector, is the result of the collaborative efforts of four organizations: the Sierra Club, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Sustainable Endowments Institute and the Princeton Review.

“If you take a look at the points the university received in all the categories, it allows for future discussion on what kind of renewal options are available to Grand Valley,” said Christopher. “I think with transportation we’ve done well, with bus transportation and now biking, so those are the kind of discussion items where we’ve done well, but there are some areas where we can focus on our gaps. We find it (the survey) to be very robust and in depth.

“We’re about to submit our 2012 data that was based on 2011. We know we have other areas of improvement, but maybe next year’s ranking system will show continual improvement.”

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