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UMass Lowell Honored as Leader in Sustainability

State Recognition Caps Year of Achievements in the Field

Two women hold an award plaque while posing for a photo with five men Photo by Ed Brennen
Secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides, third from left, poses with UMass Lowell's, from left, Dan Abrahamson, Ruairi O'Mahony, Julie Chen, Steve O'Riordan, Thomas Miliano and T.J. McCarthy at the Leading by Example awards at University Crossing.


Contact for media: Nancy Cicco,

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell has won a 2021 Leading by Example Award for its multifaceted approach to promoting sustainability and improving the environment.  

Overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the Leading by Example program works with state agencies and public colleges and universities to advance clean energy and sustainable practices that reduce the environmental impacts of state government operations.

It is the fifth time UMass Lowell has been honored with a Leading by Example Award since the program began in 2012.

This year, the university was honored for identifying the strategies and technologies needed to meet campus energy needs while pursuing carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner. UMass Lowell shared the award with four other public universities in the state and was commended for fostering collaboration with them, sharing best practices that can be implemented at other state facilities. 

“Public sector leaders at the state and local level play a crucial role in contributing innovative approaches and solutions that help our state meet its ambitious climate and clean energy goals,” said Gov. Charlie Baker about the Leading by Example program. “The award ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate the good work of our state and municipal leaders and the action they are taking to protect our environment, reduce costs and embrace forward-looking solutions to our energy challenges.”

UMass Lowell’s award spotlights the work of the university’s Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy (RISE), which advances research in the field and promotes community action toward solving environmental challenges. 

“In the last three years, our talented faculty have brought in almost $40 million in funding focused on climate change, energy and sustainability. As our expertise grows, so does the sense of urgency,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. “The enormity of the challenge that we face to meet our individual and collective climate, energy and sustainability goals is significant. It’s not a task for any one organization, one industry or one profession; it is an imperative that we collaborate and coordinate on to realize our collective goals.”

UMass Lowell launched RISE in 2019 through a $1 million donation from philanthropists Brian Rist, a UMass Lowell graduate, and his wife Kim Rist. 

Along with coordinating research, the institute oversees engagement opportunities for UMass Lowell students and campus-community initiatives such as the Urban Agriculture Program, which provides fresh, locally grown produce to members of the Greater Lowell community. 

“We are delighted to receive a 2021 Leading by Example Award for our extensive energy and carbon-reduction planning efforts,” said RISE Executive Director Ruairi O’Mahony. “Our goal is to create sustainability blueprints that can be replicated at scale, not only at UMass Lowell, but in communities throughout our region and across the world.”

RISE has consistently won praise from other organizations working to improve the environment. Again – for the third consecutive year – UMass Lowell ranks No. 1 in its commitment to sustainability among Massachusetts colleges and universities, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The organization gives UMass Lowell a “Gold” designation in its STARS (Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) ranking, which measures institutions’ success promoting sound environmental practices and programs. 

The Princeton Review’s 2021 Guide to Green Colleges also singles out UMass Lowell, citing it among the nation’s most environmentally responsible higher ed institutions, while the Sierra Club ranks UMass Lowell No. 24 among more than 325 colleges and universities across the country on its “Cool Schools” list, which commends the country’s most “green” campuses. And, this year, in an inaugural ranking, UMass Lowell is certified as a “zero waste” campus by the Post-Landfill Action Network and checks in at No. 6 on the organization’s “Zero Waste Campuses” list. 

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.