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Seattle U Again a Top 20 Sierra “Cool School”

September 28, 2020

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Seattle University continued its run of top rankings for sustainability by once again being named a Sierra Cool School for 2020. It earned a spot in Sierra magazine’s Top 20.      

Seattle University continued its run of top rankings for sustainability by once again being named a Sierra Cool School for 2020. It earned a spot in Sierra magazine’s Top 20, placing #20 of 312 colleges and universities—the top 7 percent overall—that participated in the latest survey of sustainability practices. Seattle U is the only university in the Northwest to place in the top group.

In its summary of the university’s achievements Sierra noted, “After the pandemic altered Earth Day plans, Seattle U unveiled a virtual event complete with ‘Earth Talks.’ Students and staff garnered national media attention for creating five-minute presentations—modeled after the popular TED talks—on hot button (topics) like climate communication and environmental racism.

“The campus community diverted nearly 70 percent of all waste this past school year (up from 56 percent the previous year), thanks to student-driven recycling audits. Students also launched the Edible Campus Initiative, through which a coalition works with grounds management to maximize edible, forgeable plants on the urban campus.”

Sierra also heralded the university’s branch of Engineers for a Sustainable World and its work implementing a reverse osmosis system in a Thai community, which cleans drinking water and eliminates locals’ need for plastic bottles.”

“It’s fantastic that our students, staff and faculty received recognition for the hard work they put into creating special Earth Day programming this year and for the host of other sustainability initiatives that make Seattle U a national sustainability leader in higher education,” says Phillip Thompson, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS).

Each of the schools ranked in the Top 20 have demonstrated a commitment to addressing climate change, protecting the environment and encouraging environmental responsibility both through their campus operations and course curriculums. Sierra’s researchers ranked colleges and universities based on academic criteria, such as environmentally focused curriculum, student engagement with environmental activism, renewable energy and waste management operations and planning and administrative standards.

As in past years, Sierra scored schools by using raw data from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) self-reporting tool. Sierra then applied a customized score across 61 questions, including a supplemental question about fossil fuel investments. 

Thompson says Seattle U scored especially well for its strong sustainability oriented curriculum, for engaging the campus and surrounding community and for divestment.

Seattle U announced in September 2018 that it would divest the university’s $230 million endowment from fossil fuels within the next five years. Last April, the university reached its halfway point nine months ahead of schedule to divest its endowment portfolio of companies owning fossil fuel reserves by 50 percent by Dec. 31. The goal for full divestiture is June 30, 2023.

Seattle U began participating in the rigorous benchmarking STARS program in 2016 and out of the gate achieved a gold rating. The university also achieved gold ratings in 2018 and 2019.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Thompson says CEJS will work with stakeholders from across campus to gather data and identify sustainability improvements and will submit an updated STARS report next February with the hope improving Seattle U’s ranking next year.

The full ranking of 312 colleges and universities, including each school’s completed questionnaire, are available here.