Is it any surprise that some of the most forward-thinking solutions come from the country’s colleges and universities?
The Sierra Club (along with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the Sustainable Endowments Institute, and the Princeton Review) put out a ranking of the greenest four-year educational institutions in the United States.
From aquaponics facilities to solar power projects, the county as a whole can get schooled by these planet-friendly efforts. “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,” the Sierra Club explains. “It also serves to spur competition, create aspirational standards and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet.”
Here are the top 5 greenest schools in the country (for the complete list, click here):
#5: Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Ore.
This completely solar-powered campus has a whole range of eco-friendly features (it is in Portland, after all), but the Sierra Club ranked it as an impressive No. 5 thanks to its impressive sustainable food program. About 25 percent of campus foods are sourced from within 100 miles, and of course, most of it is organic. Seafood meets the Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainable fishing standards, and as for meat, products are hormone/antibiotic-free, poultry is free-range and beef is grass-fed. Plus, the university doesn’t sell water bottles in most places on school grounds.
 #4: Loyola University, Chicago
We’ve talked about the importance of urban agriculture before, and Chicago’s Loyola University proves that major metropolitan cities can definitely have farms. The Jesuit school has a 3,100-square-foot research greenhouse, aquaponics facilities and the largest geothermal facility in the Windy City where students learn how to make soap and biodiesel. The school also offers five (soon to be seven) environmental bachelor’s programs.
#3: Dickinson College, Carlisle, Penn.
This small liberal arts school knows what to do with rainwater and storm runoff, which is important as climate change forecasts much more severe weather to come. It has rain gardens, cisterns, native lawns and porous pavement. The school also has a bicycle co-op, a farm-to-table dining hall program and about 100 eco-classes across 33 academic disciplines, where students can learn how to turn vegetable oil into biodiesel.
#2: American University, Washington, D.C.
The Sierra Club’s runner-up boasts the largest solar array in the nation’s capital, dozens of buildings that are on their way to LEED certification and a program where students can adopt and take care of trees around the city. The school also has a few future goals in mind: By 2016, clubs will be banned from buying bottled water; by 2017, 50 percent of food on campus will be from sustainable sources and by 2020, the school will divert all its food waste from landfills or incinerators.
#1: University of California, Irvine, Irvine, Calif.
The So-Cal school earned the top spot on the list because it’s the first school in the country to improve its energy efficiency by 20 percent — a goal originally set for 2020 but met a whole seven years early. And because it hit its target so quickly, the school is now aiming for an additional 20 percent energy reduction by 2020. So how did UC Irvine get so green? The campus boasts three solar power projects and a 19-megawatt cogeneration plant that’s powered by combustion and steam. And in a shining water-conversation example for the drought-ridden state, the school’s recycling program saves more than 210 million gallons of H2O a year.
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