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UNH makes spot on Sierra Club’s sustainable school list

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is back on the Sierra Club Cool School list.  

Sierra Club selected 20 out of 282 most sustainable campuses in the United States and Canada, and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) landed fourth place for 2019. 

“At UNH, our community really rallies around sustainability,” said Colleen Flaherty, the communications coordinator at the UNH Sustainability Institute. “It’s a community value here, and we have faculty, students, staff, community members working on sustainability projects. We, the Sustainability Institute, catalogue those for reporting tool that looks at sustainability.”  

The Sustainability Institute at UNH does an extensive job of documenting the sustainability aspects of campus life. 

“We report every three years [to the Association of Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education [(AASHE)] on our sustainability projects, and it can be, like, how many courses are in sustainability, how do we power our campus, how much trash and recycling do we produce,” Flaherty said. “Also, do we pay our staff livable wage? Do we asses our students’ sustainability knowledge? We reported in 2017 and we received [the] highest rating available.” 

Sierra Club looks at the data from AASHE and comes up with their own rating of schools based on specific criteria, such as: transportation, grounds management, water and energy use, and then produces a list of 20 schools with the highest ratings on a yearly basis. Last year for 2018, UNH took the second place on the list. 

“The reason we are number four [this year] is that there are other schools… they are doing great things,” Flaherty said. “It’s not like we dropped, it’s more like other schools are doing great work, which is awesome, because we want everyone doing sustainability work.” 

The Sierra Club’s rankings highlight UNH’s efforts in making its campus a more sustainable environment. 

“UNH has long prioritized environmental stewardship—it’s the home of the country’s first sustainability office,” Katie O’Reilly, Sierra’s adventure and lifestyle editor, said. “We’re consistently impressed with the school’s academic and internship offerings in the eco-sustainability space… Plus, when last October’s IPCC climate change report dropped, UNH’s undergrad, grad, and faculty senates passed unanimous resolutions to cut greenhouse gas levels in accordance with the UN panel’s recommendations. It shows engagement across every sector of the campus.” 

Out of many sustainability projects currently in motion all around campus, Flaherty highlighted a few. 

“One project we are working on is to make UNH a zero-waste campus,” she said. “So, we’re in the process of assessing how to go about that. We’re also finding that our waste bins are not well-positioned, we don’t have a lot of places and there’s not a great signage, so we’re moving towards more standardized signs for the university.” 

The Sustainability Institute is also working on making composting a more widespread practice on campus, starting with places like the Dairy Bar and Union Court, which have compostable food containers. 

It is an achievement for an environmentally conscious campus to be on the Sierra Club list. 

“It means that nationally, our leadership is being recognized,” Flaherty said. “We know that we do sustainability well, and we’re always looking to improve those efforts, and we’re getting national credit for that. It means that our sustainability efforts are just going to continue to grow.” 

“It shows that eco-sustainability is a huge priority—if you’re on this list, you’re paying attention, and you’re tracking the data, which helps identify areas for improvement, and set goals and benchmarks,” O’Reilly said. “Our hope is that our rankings can serve as a guide for prospective students, current students, administrators and alumni to compare colleges’ commitments to environmentalism. It also serves to spur healthy competition among schools, raise environmental standards on campus, and publicly reward the institutions that work hard to protect the planet.” 

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