CU-Boulder absent from Sierra Magazine \’green\’ list, no longer cooperating with surveys



The University of Colorado debuted one of the nation\’s greenest dorms this week, a building where chefs and farmers will make appearances and share recipes that students can replicate with locally produced food in a kitchen outfitted with energy-efficient appliances.

The Boulder campus this summer also announced it would stop using pesticides on its turf, a commitment few universities have made that will cost up to $90,000 a year. And three new buildings on campus have been added to the zero-waste roster, joining the stadium, dining halls and University Memorial Center.

Despite the eco-friendly evolution, CU — which Sierra Magazine crowned the greenest college in the nation two years ago — is absent from the magazine\’s 2011 list, released last week.

Topping this year\’s chart is the University of Washington, a campus that runs three farms and, like CU, has followed green construction guidelines with its newest buildings.

CU opts out of surveys

CU wasn\’t even considered for the Sierra list this year because the university, along with some other colleges across the country, is playing hard-to-get when it comes to responding to ad hoc groups that gather up green statistics to release environmental ratings. The Boulder campus — home of the first-ever collegiate recycling program — is part of a higher education movement that has called for a more uniform green grading system.

Rebecca Silver, publicist for The Sierra Club, said CU wasn\’t in the running this year because the school never responded to its survey.

Last year, CU had slipped to No. 13 in the ratings, as the environmental editors placed extra scrutiny on energy sources to reflect an anti-coal stance.

In 2010, CU joined about two dozen other colleges and universities in an open letter to publishers of campus sustainability rankings, setting out suggested guidelines for consistent and comparable metrics to grade the \”greenness\” of their campuses.

Now, CU gauges its progress on sustainability strategies using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, which was developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

\”The STARS rankings and the ratings are transparent and there\’s a formula,\” said Dave Newport, director of CU\’s Environmental Center. \”With Sierra, I\’m sure that they have good people, but the ratings happen behind closed doors.\”

CU, he said, was the first campus in the nation to receive the STARS gold ranking. More than 260 colleges have signed up for the STARS rating system.

Sierra Magazine e-mailed surveys to 940 schools and received 118 responses.

Newport said CU doesn\’t have time to compile responses to the numerous, and varying, surveys it gets about its green practices.

Green ratings of college campuses are becoming an increasingly important component as surveys, including one by the Princeton Review, reveal that nearly two-thirds of incoming students take a school\’s environmental commitment into consideration when they enroll.

Greening the campus

Newport said that CU, as part of its zero-waste plan, this year is expanding its compost collections in the business school, education building and Environmental Health and Safety building.

Incoming freshman Charlotte Wagenheim, of Minnesota, said she appreciates the refillable water bottle stations on campus that are reducing the consumption of plastic bottles and the smart sensors in her dorm that turn off the heat when windows are open.

This week, students are moving into the new Williams Village north dorm, which is on track to earn the U.S. Green Building Council\’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum status, making it the country\’s first dorm of its size to receive such a rating.

Heidi Roge, building project manager for CU\’s Housing and Dining Services department, said the building will use 39 percent less energy than others of comparable size. That could translate to more than $220,000 in annual savings on utility bills.

CU\’s newest dorm is also landscaped with native plants that won\’t require much watering and topped with solar panels on its roof. Dorm room floors are made up of 36 percent recyclable content, big windows allow for more natural lighting and smart sensors turn off lights in unoccupied rooms.

Students in \”Will Vill North\” will compete to see which floors can save the most energy.

CU freshman Brittany Reid, who moved to campus this week, locked up her bike outside the north tower Wednesday. This school year, Reid plans to ride her bike and take the bus as alternatives to having a car. She said she\’s already noticed the volume of recycling bins on campus, as well as the low-flow toilets and showers in her dorm.

Reid is enrolled in the \”Sustainable by Design\” Residential Academic Program, which is one of the dorm\’s two specialty programs.

An environmentally conscious school was key in Reid\’s college selection process, as sustainability will be fundamental to her civil engineering degree, she said.

\”CU is the greenest school that I applied to,\” said Reid, who applied to other colleges in her home state of Washington, as well as schools in Michigan, Montana and Indiana.