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College garners top honors in 'Sierra' green rankings

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By KATHRYN FLAGG

MIDDLEBURY — When it comes to being green, Middlebury College takes the eco-cake, according to “Sierra,” the magazine of the Sierra Club.

The September/October issue of the magazine, which ships out to 1.2 million readers, recognized the college as the number one school on a list of 10 “schools that get it,” applauding the institution for its continued work as an environmental leader in higher education.

“Sierra” singled out a partnership that makes it easy for Middlebury students to offset carbon dioxide emissions associated with travel, and gave a nod of appreciation to grants for students to investigate environmental solutions like geothermal power while studying abroad. The feature also highlighted the college’s waste management facilities, which recycle 60 percent of campus waste, and the new biomass generator, slated to kick into gear this winter.

The news proved exciting for the staff at the college, though the college’s high standing among eco-friendly universities has often been pointed out by other rankings. Middlebury was one of six schools nationwide recognized this year by the Sustainable Endowments Institute as a sustainability leader, earning the institute’s highest recognition.

But the high-profile “Sierra” feature is nonetheless a welcome pat on the back for the college. 

“It’s a nice acknowledgement of all the great things that we’ve been doing here,” said Director of Sustainability Integration Jack Byrne.

“I’m so proud of what Middlebury’s doing,” said Dean of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay. “It’s about champions all throughout the system,” she said, pointing to the staff members, faculty and administrators across the college spectrum who have worked to make the school more green.

Ratings like the “Sierra” list can be a “double-edged sword,” Byrne said. He hopes rankings like these don’t discourage schools who may see themselves as falling behind in the race to be green.

“If it creates healthy competition and collaboration to be greener, then I think it’s a good thing,” Byrne said. “If it increases the gap between schools that place a high priority on being sustainable and schools that don’t, it may not be as helpful.”

And Jenks-Jay stressed the importance of not letting such lists “go to our heads.” She predicted that, as more schools focus their attention on sustainability, rankings like the “Sierra” list will become even more competitive in coming years. Middlebury cannot afford to rest on our laurels, she said.

The more important question, she noted, is “What’s next?”

Nevertheless, it is important to “stop, reflect and celebrate,” Jenks-Jay said. And last week, on the lawn beside the college’s new environmental center — the cornerstone of the program on campus that opened last fall — members of the Environmental Studies department did just that.

The atmosphere was jovial as professors, staff members and alumni gathered to celebrate the latest success — complete with a few lighthearted exclamations from Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Stephen Trombulak of “number one!” and “Rose Bowl!”

“Sierra” judged schools in 10 categories: policies for building, energy, food, investment, procurement, and transportation; curriculum; environmental activism; waste management; and overall commitment to sustainability.

A perfect score would give a school 100 points. Middlebury College snagged an “A”-worthy 93.

Rounding out a solid success for the Green Mountain State in green ratings, the University of Vermont ranked third on the “Sierra” list, drawing praise for buying dining-hall food from local farmers, supplying 60 percent of the campus power needs with sustainable energy and providing biodiesel shuttles.

Other schools in the top-10 rankings included the University of Colorado at Boulder, Warren Wilson College, Evergreen State College, Arizona State University at Tempe, University of Florida at Gainesville, Oberlin College, University of Washington at Seattle and Tufts University.

“We are glad to see so many other colleges and universities joining the effort to help assure that we effectively meet the environmental, economic and social challenges of our time,” Byrne said. “It’s needed.”

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