UW News

August 14, 2012

UW named America’s fourth ‘coolest’ school by Sierra magazine

News and Information

The University of Washington again has been ranked among the coolest schools in America, placing fourth this year.

Sierra Magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, once again placed the University of Washington in the top echelon in the country for its initiatives to operate sustainably and limit its contributions to global warming. This is the fifth year the UW has been among the top-ranked schools; it was first last year.

The complete list of “cool schools” is available at http://www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.

Schools were ranked on a variety of factors provided through an in-depth survey, which includes questions regarding energy consumption, transportation, waste, investments and student engagement. The award includes all three UW campuses.

“Year after year, the University of Washington is a top-ranked institution for sustainability, which is only fair considering the emphasis placed on this by faculty, staff and students,” says UW President Michael Young. “This is something of which we are very proud. We continue to break new ground and to broaden our efforts to treat our corner of the planet with respect, in the ways we live and work, but also in the breadth and intensity of our research and teaching.”

The university established a formal policy on environmental stewardship and has developed an ambitious Climate Action Plan, a document laying out the broad strategies the UW will use to become climate neutral.  The UW is a founding member of the Seattle Climate Partnership and is a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.  The university’s Environmental Stewardship Committee is supported by the Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Office, which has created a dashboard as a means of measuring the university’s progress toward its environmental goals.

“We’re a place that values curiosity, which uncovers problems and discovers solutions,” explains Sandra Archibald, dean of the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs and chair of the university’s Environmental Stewardship Committee. “And, even though sustainability is a very tough topic, we’ve approached it with wonderful multi-generational learning and lots of civil and constructive conversation. I think that’s very hard for government or industry to do.”

Adds Ruth Johnston, who facilitates the Environmental Stewardship Committee and runs the UW’s Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability Office while serving as Associate Vice President in Finance & Facilities: “With sustainability, we’re investing in improvements to human lives, both at the university and beyond it. It’s definitely retrofitting our green buildings and empowering students to make environmental change on campus, but it’s also educating people everywhere. Most importantly, though, we’re trying to create a better quality of life for today and tomorrow.”

To help reach that goal, the UW is a participant in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid project, and it’s installing meters and equipment to measure energy consumption at two residence halls, where students will be developing demonstration projects, and two academic or research buildings. The $9.6 million project also will allow the UW to standardize and modernize the campus building energy management infrastructure by upgrading electrical building meters to smart meters in as many as 200 buildings. These building systems will be tied together to provide a common platform for managing energy consumption.

The UW implements wide-ranging energy conservation projects and UW Housing & Food Services emphasizes local organic and natural foods.  The university has committed to build all state-funded, federal stimulus-funded, and specific client goal-directed new construction and major renovation projects to at least Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver standards. There are now 19 LEED-certified buildings at the UW, with an additional 17 LEED-certified projects planned over the next five years.  The university encourages the community to use alternative transportation through “UW Zimride,” a social-networking ride-sharing program, and also with its transportation fleet, in which half of the vehicles use alternative fuel or are hybrid, electric or biodiesel powered.

UW’s Environmental Stewardship Committee fosters collaboration with students, faculty and staff playing an integral role with guiding the university’s sustainability goals. Students are leaders in campus sustainability efforts. They have created a Campus Sustainability Fund, a student-led green fee that funds projects. The fund has allocated $600,000 to various projects, including the UW Farm, a Biodiversity Green Wall, a bio-swale, and a series of do-it-yourself bicycle repair stations.

“Sustainability is an essential part of our core value structure as an institution, and it helps define our depth and breadth,” says V’Ella Warren, senior vice president at the UW and treasurer for the Board of Regents. “Only a university like this could tackle a real-world challenge as complex and nuanced as the environment.”