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Sierra Club names IU among top eco-friendly schools

POSTED AT 11:30 PM ON Aug. 28, 2012  (UPDATED AT 11:30 PM ON Aug. 28, 2012)

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IU’s bolstering of eco-friendly initiatives, like the semiannual campus-wide energy challenges, might have paid dividends.

According to Sierra Club’s sixth annual ranking of participating universities, IU is among the top 50 greenest schools in the nation.

IU was ranked 43rd among the 96 surveyed universities, up from 81st on last year’s list.

Each school was ranked in several categories, including co-curricular, education/research, energy, transport, waste, water, purchasing, food, planning, investing and innovation.

“We celebrate the universities that have shown the highest level of commitment to making earth-saving decisions,” said Avital Andrews, an editor of Sierra Magazine. “A transition is brewing among college administrators who are retrofitting energy-guzzling buildings, putting composting programs into place, seeding campus farms, funding clean-tech research labs, shuttering coal-fired power plants and mandating curricula that guarantee environmental literacy.”

Though Bill Brown, director of sustainability at IU, agreed the administration is taking steps in the right direction, he said the office has mixed feelings about the ranking because of a change in the rating system.

For the first time, Sierra Club has used information from a more complex rating system, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. IU was the seventh university to implement the more precise tracking system.

“On the good side, they’re using more sophisticated data, more comprehensive data,” Brown said. “But there’s not as many schools rated or ranked as before. We have mixed feelings about it, but we’re always happy to be recognized for what we’re doing.”
He said fewer schools participating in the new surveying system contributed to the drastic increase.

Plenty of other initiatives on campus helped push IU to the upper half of the rankings, Brown said.

Local members of Sierra Club also had reservations regarding the results.

Alexis Boxer, Sierra Student Coalition Indiana field organizer, said IU tended to score high in student engagement and education but not so well in energy.

“It is great that Indiana University is gaining momentum for sustainability initiatives on campus and has done a good job with engaging the campus community in these issues,” she said. “But the elephant in the room, in this case, is the University’s continued use of fossil fuels.”

Brown said the administration is taking steps toward those environmental achievements with the recent release of the Integrated Energy Master Plan, which outlines future goals to reduce energy use at IU.

“The Integrated Energy Master Plan shows a path and a future that has much lower emissions and much lower energy use overall,” Brown said.

While Boxer acknowledged that the plan is a step in the right direction, she stressed that campus leaders must continue to pressure the administration to invest in real change.

However, both Boxer and Brown praised the University’s student engagement and academic initiatives. IU recently announced the merger of a few environmental programs to create the Integrated Program in the Environment, which will offer additional degrees and more funding opportunities.

Brown said the Office of Sustainability has had success with its volunteer base and internship program, as well as the campus-wide energy challenges.

“People are learning how to change their behavior, and some of those things are being recognized nationally,” Brown said. “It can’t hurt.”

 

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