GW vaulted into the top quarter of the nation’s environmentally friendly schools, according to an August assessment by the Sierra Club.
The University ranked No. 30 on Sierra magazine’s annual America’s Coolest Schools list for 2011, a 27-spot leap from its position last year.
The magazine ranked 118 schools based on their answers to a 12-page sustainability survey measuring performance in 10 different categories including energy, academics, transportation, waste management and administration.
“The traditional measures of choosing a school are changing, and how green a school is can be seen as a measure of prestige,” Avital Binshtock, Sierra’s lifestyle editor, who oversaw the rankings, said.
Director of the Office of Sustainability, Meghan Chapple-Brown attributed this year’s jump to several programs, including the continued Eco-Challenge, the addition of sustainable plateware to J Street and the pilot composting program on the Mount Vernon Campus.
Increasing sustainable practices and education at GW has been a priority for Knapp since he began his tenure as University president in 2007. Since then, GW has increased the number of courses offered that teach environmentally friendly practices and has created a roadmap to decrease GW’s carbon footprint over the next few decades.
The University ranked highest in the survey’s miscellaneous category because it recycles 100 percent of its used frying oil into high-energy fat used in animal feeds and into biofuel replacement for traditional fossil fuels.
“We don’t see a lot of that. It’s pretty neat,” Binshtock said.
The University’s urban location earned it a high score in the transportation section of the survey. Local amenities like public transportation, Capital Bikeshare, Zipcar and the Vern Express help cut back on single-occupancy vehicles on campus.
GW scored lowest in the energy category, which Binshtock attributed to the University’s high reliance on coal power. The fossil fuel accounts for 49 percent of the school’s electricity, followed by nuclear and natural gases. Less than five percent come from wind, solar and hydropower combined.
“The best thing students at GW could do if they want to increase the rankings next year is to get active about getting coal off campus,” Binshtock said.
Chapple-Brown noted that the University implemented new energy initiatives since the Sierra survey deadline in April, including the installation of solar thermal water-heating systems on the roofs of Building JJ, 1959 E Street and Ivory Tower.
“From turning off lights, using a reusable water bottle, learning how to recycle properly on campus, using bike share and public transportation or unplugging appliances when not in use, there are steps everyone can take to help GW realize its sustainability goals,” Chapple-Brown said.