University Climbs More Than 100 Spots Thanks to Recent Sustainability Initiatives

A student studies outside on South Campus Image by Adrien Bisson
Thanks in part to its commitment to providing students with green space, UML jumped to 22nd in Sierra magazine's annual ranking of "Cool Schools."

By Ed Brennen

UMass Lowell jumped more than 100 spots — to No. 22 — in Sierra magazine’s 12th annual “Cool Schools” ranking of North America’s greenest colleges and universities.

Compiled by the national magazine of the Sierra Club, the Cool Schools Rankings assess colleges' performance in everything from what they teach to how they obtain their electricity to their sources of dining hall food.

Last year, UMass Lowell ranked No. 124; in 2016 it was No. 165.

“Our rise in the rankings reflects the diligence of all members of the university community in implementing sustainable practices in everything they do, from transportation and energy reduction to recycling and composting,” says Rich Lemoine, executive director of Administrative Services, Environmental & Emergency Management. 

Sierra received submissions from a record 269 schools in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Canada this year. 

According to Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony, this was the first time that the university has been able to report on its full range of programs, such as the Sustainability Engagement & Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund and the Urban Agriculture and Sustainability Site.

It’s also the first time the university has reported since receiving a Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) program. 

“We are very proud of this significant jump,” O’Mahony says. “It’s a real reflection of Chancellor Jacquie Moloney’s commitment and investment in sustainability at UMass Lowell.” 

The Sierra Club used a new scoring system this year based on institutions’ existing STARS scores. It processed the STARS data through a custom-built formula that ranked schools according to the organization’s own weighting criteria across 18 categories ranging from “curriculum” to “water.”

UMass Lowell received an overall score of 74.04. The university scored well in the categories of waste, buildings and campus and public engagement.

The University of California Irvine and Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, tied for the top spot in the 2018 rankings with overall scores of 86.95.