SUNY-ESF places 2nd in Sierra Magazine’s “Cool School” ranking

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State University of New York College of Environment and Forestry placed 2nd in Sierra Magazine's "cool school" ranking. The school ranked No. 140 last year.

Sierra Magazine has named SUNY-ESF the No. 2 “Cool School” for 2016, jumping from its No. 104 ranking a year ago.

The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry was only outranked by the College of the Atlantic, a private liberal arts college in Maine with a student population of 349. The school beat SUNY-ESF in the categories of academics and transport, both of which were weighted heavily by Sierra Magazine for ranking.

The magazine focuses on environmental sustainability and ranks schools based on 64 different categories, including energy and transportation.

Sierra Magazine is a division of Sierra Club, an organization dedicated to protecting the environment and encouraging sustainability across all areas of life.

Jason Mark, Sierra Magazine’s editor in chief, said SUNY-ESF ranked so highly because of its improvements in the investments and energy categories.

“The clear one was investments, where SUNY-ESF scored a perfect 100 in the area of environmental sustainable investment,” Mark said. “That largely means — for us— making a public commitment to divest from fossil fuel investments.”

Mark Lichtenstein, executive director of sustainability at SUNY-ESF, said the student-led move to divest made the university a top contender on the list.

“We have a very large Divest ESF group that was very professional, very focused, very engaged and pushed very hard with the college administration and the college foundation,” Lichtenstein said.

He added that SUNY-ESF’s decision to divest was also driven by Syracuse University’s commitment to divesting from fossil fuels. Lichtenstein said SUNY-ESF students helped to push SU to divest alongside SU students and in turn got SUNY-ESF to divest as well.

“We got the credit for the No. 2 ranking,” he said, “but I think SU deserves a little credit there as well.”

The tool used to rank the schools is called STARS, or Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. It ranks schools based on a number of criteria, including how the school sources its food, how it mixes sustainable and non-sustainable energy and how the school eliminates waste. Lichtenstein said that students, faculty and staff collaborated with the Sierra Club to ensure the school was doing its best to be a sustainable school.

SUNY-ESF also ranked highly in the category of food sourcing, meaning that the school did well in sourcing its food from the local region or foodshed.

The magazine gave SUNY-ESF a score of 82 percent in academics for its mix of classes associated with sustainability and the number of faculty members engaged in sustainability research, Mark said.

The transportation ranking was low for SUNY-ESF because of the number of students and faculty who commute to campus on a daily basis, along with the number of hybrid or electric cars used on campus, Mark said.

Despite coming in second place, Lichtenstein said the job is not done in improving SUNY-ESF.

“You look across those categories and you see a school that has a deep commitment to making sure that the campus is both a living laboratory for sustainability and also an educational incubator for sustainability,” Mark said. “They’re creating a culture amongst students dedicated to reducing our environmental footprint.”


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