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September 11, 2014

Cool Schools: How Pitt fares in “green” ranking

The University ranked No. 97 among 173 schools in Sierra Magazine’s annual Cool Schools list of the nation’s greenest colleges.

Of a possible 1,000 points, Pitt earned 559.37. The University of California-Irvine was No. 1 in the recently released 2014 survey.

Schools were ranked in 11 categories: co-curricular, energy, investments, food, innovation, academics/research, planning, purchasing, transit, waste and water. Pitt ranked No. 38 among the 173 schools in the energy category, 68th in transportation and 90th in both academics/research and food.

The Cool Schools report stated: “While many universities are making admirable progress, no school has yet attained complete sustainability. The top-rated university scored 813.51 (out of a possible 1,000 points), indicating much work completed but also room for improvement.”

Participation was open to all four-year, degree-granting undergraduate schools in the United States. Schools that submitted complete data by Sierra’s deadline were eligible for the rankings.

The report stated: “The United States has more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities, so there are, of course, schools that care about the environment that don’t appear on Sierra’s list. That said, our ranking aims to act as a guide for prospective students who seek a way to compare colleges based on the schools’ commitment to environmentalism. It also serves to spur competition, create aspirational standards and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet.”

Pitt’s participation in the ranking comes after a two-year absence. In its first submission to the Cool Schools list in 2011, the University ranked No. 52 out of 118 schools.

In 2012 Sierra expanded the survey and changed its scoring, making it difficult to compare earlier years to the current scores. The Cool Schools survey now uses broader data submitted to STARS, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, which also is a source for the Princeton Review’s annual guide to green colleges. Pitt has appeared on that list for three consecutive years. (See May 1 University Times.)

Lauro Zullo, Pitt’s senior manager of energy initiatives, who is responsible for completing the sustainability surveys, favors using the streamlined common data set, noting that Sierra and Princeton Review each draw different subsets of information from schools’ STARS data. “I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “It’s still a really big survey. Both pull different things from it.”

Zullo said the Sierra survey’s transition to the new methodology affected communication, noting that Pitt didn’t appear on the 2012 and 2013 list because she didn’t receive the survey invitations.

“We intended to always stay on the list,” she said, adding that she received the 2014 survey information only days before the deadline. As a result of the hurried response, the Sierra ranking “didn’t pick up on everything Pitt is doing.”

For instance, Pitt scored well in the energy category, having reduced its energy consumption per gross square foot of building space (compared to a 2005 baseline), but the University wasn’t credited for its energy management system or energy metering.

Pitt got no points in the innovation category, despite its many sustainability-related innovations. “We do a lot of innovative things here at Pitt and I hope to be able to showcase that in our next submission,” she said.

While Pitt fared well amid an expanded field of schools in this year’s ranking, Zullo is confident that the University can boost its points next year. “We’ll do a better job with more time to complete the whole survey,” she said.


Some neighboring institutions participated in the 2014 Sierra ranking: Chatham University was No. 20; Carnegie Mellon was No. 65. Of other Pennsylvania schools, Penn ranked No. 40, Penn State was No. 48, Allegheny College was No. 110, Villanova was 121, Westminster ranked No. 123, Temple was No. 128, Lehigh was No. 138 and West Chester ranked No. 156.

Pitt’s 224-page submission is available as part of the full rankings at

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 2