UC Berkeley ranks 13th in Sierra magazine’s 2020 ‘Cool Schools’

Photo of Berkeley compost, landfill, and recycle bins
Nirvana Ellaboudy/File
According to the Sierra magazine, which listed UC Berkeley as 13th in its ‘Cool Schools’ ranking, the university earned its spot due to its sustainability-centered online freshman orientation and efforts to eliminate single-use plastics by 2030, among other reasons. Institutions were ranked based on their Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System report scores.

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UC Berkeley is ranked 13th in Sierra magazine’s 2020 “Cool Schools” ranking, alongside five other UC campuses that placed in the top 30 schools.

Among other things, UC Berkeley is being recognized for retrofitting an art museum into Berkeley’s first zero-carbon building, its sustainability-focused online freshman orientation and its commitment to eliminating nonessential single-use plastics by 2030, according to the magazine article.

“Berkeley has been… progressive on initiatives to become a campus run by 100% renewable energy, a necessity in our fight against climate change,” said Sander Kushen, campus organizer for CalPIRG, in an email.

Institutions are scored based on their Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, or STARS, reports, according to the Sierra website. By participating in STARS, schools earn points toward a bronze, silver, gold or platinum rating, which UC Berkeley received gold in, according to the STARS website.

Sarah Xu, campus senior and community engagement associate at the Student Environmental Resource Center, or SERC, said UC Berkeley’s efforts toward sustainability are more student-led than they are administrative.

Xu compared UC Berkeley’s environmental efforts to UC Irvine’s, which Sierra magazine ranked as number one.

“A lot of the things that UC Irvine does well compared to us is a lot of the administrative level, like research and funding on campus initiatives,” Xu said.

Student groups, such as SERC and the Students of Color Environmental Collective, have “led the way” in making environmentalism more accessible on campus by ensuring that all voices are heard in the conversation surrounding sustainability, according to Julia Sherman, campus senior and UC Berkeley Zero Waste Coalition chair.

According to Olivia Bazar, campaign coordinator for CALPIRG’s Plastic-Free Seas campaign at UC Berkeley, the coalition’s goal to hit zero waste on campus by 2020 is not on track to be met. Despite this, Sherman said she is proud of the ranking UC Berkeley received and noted the university’s April commitment to the largest plastic ban in the country.

“While we still have room to improve in terms of our diversion rate … we have already seen great improvement,” Sherman said. “To me, the Zero Waste by 2020 goal doesn’t fully encapsulate all of the work currently being done to make campus more sustainable.”

The Sierra Club intends for its annual rankings to create a “healthy competition” between schools, ultimately leading to an overall improvement in their environmental standards, said Katie O’Reilly, Sierra magazine’s adventure and lifestyle editor, in an email.

Bazar urges students to continue striving toward enhanced sustainability practices.

“While I am proud UC Berkeley is in the top 30, we should strive to be in the number one spot as we do with anything else,” Bazar said in an email.

Contact Olivia Moore at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivia_moore18 .