The University of New Hampshire (UNH) was listed ninth for sustainability efforts on the Sierra Club’s “Top 20 Coolest Schools 2020.” Before the ranking, struggles with the coronavirus (COVID-19) safety protocols like increased plastic bag and container use were discussed, along with the sustainability innovations that the 20 schools on the list have achieved despite the recent adversity.  

The article by Katie O’Reilly, “Sierra’s” adventure and lifestyle editor, on Sept. 27 described actions schools across the countries were taking to earn their top 20 spot. 

Before her rankings she stated, “in the 14 years since “Sierra” started ranking colleges according to their eco bona fides and environmental commitments, one thing has become clear: Governments and businesses would be wise to take their cues from higher education. That’s because achieving carbon neutrality, divesting from fossil fuel companies, and incorporating sustainability into both campus operations and gen-ed curriculum have all become practically de rigeur in academia.” 

O’Reilly continued, “this year, a record 312 institutions participated in our annual Cool Schools rankings—a remarkable feat, given the fact it’s been a school year like no other. Beyond having to suddenly pivot to virtual learning and community-building because of the coronavirus pandemic, many schools had to backtrack. Those that had phased out plastic bags and takeout containers, for example, found themselves having to bring them back to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. Despite such setbacks, the schools on this list have shown incredible resourcefulness as they have innovated new ways to maintain—and in many cases, further—their sustainability objectives. Please join us in congratulating the following 20 tremendously cool schools. They’ve nearly mastered the most crucial subject of all.” 

And this “most crucial subject” UNH strives to master with its sustainability projects and “$56 million in ESG (environmental-, social-, and governance-based) qualified investments, and all new gifts to the university are now automatically invested in the ESG pool,” said O’Reilly.  

UNH earned a score of 84.30 and the number one school, the University of California, Irvine received a score of 89.95.  

She continued, “the newly launched B-Impact Clinic trains students in the methodology of B-Corp certification and matches them with local companies seeking help in becoming certified, re-certified, and/or in assessing and improving their social and environmental performance.” UNH launched the B Impact Clinic in the spring of 2019 in partnership with the New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility

“The school serves as the hub for a sustainability network called Food Solutions New England, through which it has created a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge—including trainings, readings, and videos designed to facilitate conversations about equity in the food system—now used by other universities and major NGOs too,” wrote O’Reilly. “In addition to continued efforts to reduce its carbon footprint (59 percent reduction since 2001, to date) UNH is one of a handful of campuses tackling its nitrogen footprint, in order to protect water and air quality as well as to mitigate climate change. Students and faculty recently developed a nifty combined carbon and nitrogen footprint analysis tool, the Sustainability Management and Analysis Platform (SIMAP), which has more than a thousand users from campuses across the globe.” 

The UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) dean Anthony Davis expressed his excitement at the new rating for sustainability. He explained that this rating should serve as something to push UNH to incorporate more sustainability measures and continue to combat climate change. “I think it is great to be recognized! With this comes the responsibility to innovate and to use that ranking not just as a point of pride and recognition but as a credential to help our communities adopt more sustainable practices. We need to self-educate in the life cycle of materials and products we use every day – from food containers to cell phones to everything else, and then we need our students to be empowered to take principles of sustainability and incorporate them into their lives and jobs as they leave UNH.”  

UNH was listed in the Sierra Club’s top 20 schools in 2019 as well, but held the fourth spot that year. 

Photo courtesy of Micky Bedell.