UC Berkeley was recently ranked as one of Sierra Magazine’s 2019 top 20 “Coolest Schools” for offering some of the best sustainability-focused courses, eco-friendly infrastructure and environmental engagement.
UC Berkeley, which ranked at number 16, was among a record number of 282 universities that applied for this year’s award. The ranking fosters healthy competition among two- and four-year institutions across the United States and Canada, according to Katie O’Reilly, Sierra Magazine’s adventure and lifestyle editor.
“You have to be doing a lot of things well to score in the top 20,” O’Reilly said. “We were really impressed with all that UC Berkeley is doing in terms of opportunities for students to engage in the environmental movement.”
Community organizer for Fossil Free Cal and campus junior Sarah Bancroft agreed that the ranking reflects student-led environmental efforts on campus and the pressure for change. Bancroft added, however, that she wished she saw fewer profit-motivated practices, such as the UC system’s investment and assets in the fossil fuel industry.
Campus sophomore Tess Gauthier, who is also a community organizer for Fossil Free Cal, said in an email that although she is grateful for the campus’s efforts towards greater sustainability, there is still work to be done.
“I am inspired each time I work alongside other students and campus organizations whose goals are to conserve our shared environment,” Gauthier said in the email. “I do however, feel that UC Berkeley is guilty of greenwashing, or making our school out to be more environmentally conscious then it actually is.”
Sierra Magazine collaborated with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE, to gather and review data from applicants, according to its website. The data includes a Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, score and an optional survey on divestments from fossil fuel interests.
O’Reilly said AASHE also reviews data on the school’s curriculum, waste management and water and energy use.
UC Berkeley received a Gold STARS certification in 2018 and has increased sustainable food purchases by campus foodservice providers to 20 percent, according to the UC Berkeley Sustainability website.
The website also reports that UC Berkeley is on track to achieving zero waste by 2020 and that at this time, 54 percent of all campus waste has been diverted from landfills.
UC schools are consistently highly ranked by Sierra Magazine, according to O’Reilly. This year, UC Irvine ranked second and UC Merced ranked sixth. O’Reilly added that she hopes institutions that were ranked within the top 20 can serve as examples to other institutions.
“We think that higher academia is such an incubator … they influence the next generation,” O’Reilly said. “Students … are going to be kind of the most crucial demographic in terms of fighting the climate crisis.”