Strides in Sustainability Raise Colorado College To Higher Ranking

Written by Carol Newton

From Leave No Trace principles introduced during New Student Orientation trips, to the Worner Center’s recycling, trash, and compost options, Colorado College seems to emphasize sustainability in all aspects of daily life. But have you ever wondered how it ranks compared to other colleges in the U.S.?

The Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” list does just that: ranks colleges on their level of sustainability based on a specially designed points system. The Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” list uses a program called Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) stars to rank schools’ sustainability. At the end of the year, sustainability reports go out, points are totaled, stars are designated based on points, and the “Cool Schools” list is created.

CC is both a member of AASHE stars and the Sierra Club. AASHE stars is a points system in which a certain caliber of star is awarded based on the amount of points earned for sustainable projects. Previously, there were 153 schools participating in the Sierra Club; this year, the number jumped to 201. A wonderful indication of increased awareness for the importance of sustainability, the steep rise in participants also means more competition. However, CC has risen to the challenge. Despite the increased amount of schools, CC continues to move up on the list; over the past few years, CC has moved from bronze, to silver, to gold in stars. On the Sierra Club’s list, the school’s ranking has improved significantly: from 63 in 2014, to 59 in 2015, and a huge leap up to 46 this year.

These giant leaps in sustainability are extremely encouraging, especially with so many new schools joining the rankings. The college continues to improve and expand sustainability measures across campus, especially since the installment of a paraprofessional in the Office of Sustainability. With campus-wide sustainability funding, recent CC graduate Katy Dupree became the first paraprofessional at the Office of Sustainability. An intern since internships were available through the Office of Sustainability (just four years ago), Dupree was a perfect fit.

Since her first year as an intern, the structure of the program has evolved significantly from an informal group of a few interns to a much more organized and efficient system of specific internship positions with 2-3 volunteers per intern. Specific intern positions include: Green House Inventory, Stars Report, and Communications. As Dupree put it, it’s a grassroots organization. With both intern and volunteer positions, there are “foot soldiers on the ground” ready to spread awareness about sustainability.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what changes helped CC move up the list, there are three areas in which CC has improved significantly in sustainability over the past few years. First is in its curriculum. More and more professors at CC are applying for a sustainability designation online, meaning that they have included topics in sustainability in their curriculum. Most exciting, more humanities professors have added sustainability topics in curriculum, whereas before this was mostly limited to science professors.

A second area of growth for our school has been in sustainable transportation methods, including CC Cycle and the Veggie Van. Launched in 2015, CC Cycle is a bike-sharing program that allows affordable transportation for CC students. As of now, the bike share program offers bikes to students for free if they sign up at the beginning of the block. This encourages students to bike instead of using other less sustainable methods of transportation (i.e. Uber). The Veggie Van, meanwhile, is a 15-passenger vehicle that runs on Waste Vegetable Oil recycled from Rastall and Bemis compost bins, both reusing waste and avoiding the use of diesel fuel.

The third category is in building innovation, the biggest being the new library on campus. Designed to be a “NetZero” building, the library is one of few in the country. While not NetZero during construction, once built it will produce as much energy as it uses by taking advantage of solar energy, a building envelope to prevent unnecessary airflow, and a system to transport unused heat to other buildings on campus. The building not only makes the campus more sustainable in practice, but more importantly sends a message to incoming students, other colleges, and the country about CC’s commitment to sustainability.

There are still many areas and directions for growth in the upcoming year. Each Tuesday, the interns meet to collaborate, celebrate progress on current projects, and dream of future projects. Eventually, Dupree hopes to see the creation of a sustainable science building to replace Olin, as well as the continuation of awareness for sustainability efforts.

For the time being, however, the Office of Sustainability is keeping an eye on the East Campus Housing project to ensure the practice of sustainable methods. As for daily life, Dupree stresses the importance of using the recycling and compost bins in Worner and across campus, certifying dorm rooms through Eco RAs, and getting involved in clubs on campus such as Enact and the Food Coalition. 

Obviously, CC’s ascension in sustainability rankings is something to celebrate, and hopefully, with so much potential for growth, the college can continue to move up in the rankings yet again next year.

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