When it comes to universities’ “greenness,” the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is 21st best in the U.S., according to a national magazine’s rigorous rankings.
The Sierra Club and Sierra Magazine released their “Cool Schools 2014” rankings, gauging the greenness of 173 participating universities; UW Oshkosh ranked 21st in the nation, up from 29th in 2013. UW Oshkosh was, once again, the highest-ranked university in Wisconsin.
“To be consistently rated and ranked so highly in this rigorous, national measure of our sustainability investments and efforts is a testament to our individual and collective commitment at UW Oshkosh,” said Brian Kermath, UW Oshkosh director of sustainability. “The Cool Schools rankings really push us to examine, track and report the work we do to weave sustainability practices into teaching and research, water and energy consumption and conservation, renewable energy generation, recycling efforts and a host of other green initiatives.”
Sierra Magazine’s “Cool Schools” ranking is open to all four-year undergraduate colleges and universities in the United States. Sierra bases its rankings on a thorough questionnaire gauging institutions’ greenness. Sierra Magazine has been annually surveying and ranking institutions for eight years as a “salute to U.S. colleges that are helping solve climate problems and making significant efforts to operate sustainably.” The magazine is the official publication of the Sierra Club, self-described as America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 1.4 million members and supporters nationwide.
The Sierra Cool Schools survey included more than 10 categories, including: energy supply, efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments, innovation and other initiatives.
UW Oshkosh’s latest Sierra recognition follows more than a decade of significant sustainability milestones, including:
- 2002: UW Oshkosh was one of a small number of universities to endorse the Earth Charter.
- 2003: The University became the first Wisconsin university to join the EPA’s Green Partnership by agreeing to purchase at least 3 percent of its energy from alternative sources.
- 2008: UW Oshkosh declared itself a Fair Trade University, the first in the United States, by committing to the purchase and use of fair trade products whenever feasible.
- Following a comprehensive and sophisticated carbon-footprint study conducted by Johnson Controls, the University recently established one of the nation’s most aggressive Climate Action Plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.
- 2010: The UW Oshkosh Foundation partnered with the University and BIOFerm Energy Systems of Madison to build the nation’s first commercial scale dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester, which began turning agricultural plant and food waste into methane in the fall of 2011.
- 2011: The UW Oshkosh Foundation again partnered with UW Oshkosh and BIOFerm to pursue an innovative partnership with Milk Source’s Rosendale Dairy to construct a 1.4-megawatt wet anaerobic biodigester/biogas production facility at the Pickett dairy site. The facility was dedicated in December 2013. In concert with the campus’ array of other sustainability initiatives, it will dramatically accelerate UW Oshkosh’s carbon neutrality target, originally set at 2025.
- March 2012: Another UW Oshkosh-BIOFerm partnership was developed with Allen Farm, which is about six miles northwest of Oshkosh. The project, referred to as the “Titan 64,” is supported in part by the Wisconsin Department of Administration and will involve a small-scale, wet biodigester with a 64 kW engine, scaled to serve the family farm site.
- 2013-14: UW Oshkosh developed a campus-wide team of residence hall “Eco-Reps” – student leaders who are helping promote recycling and energy conservation in each and every University residence hall.
- Sage Hall, the university’s state-of-the-art academic center, and Horizon Village, its newest residence hall, have both been rated as LEED Gold certified buildings. To determine LEED status, the U.S. Green Building Council awards projects points in a variety of areas including site selection, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor air quality and innovation in design. The campus Student Success Center carries a rating of LEED Silver and is UW Oshkosh’s most energy-efficient building.
- UW Oshkosh has been consistently named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of the University’s commitment to effective community forestry management.
In addition to pursuing campus building and grounds projects with sensitivity to their environmental impact, UW Oshkosh has also made sustainability a facet of its transformation of general education – the University Studies Program (USP).
“We are very proud of the ground-breaking ways our faculty members wove an understanding of and appreciation for sustainability as part of the USP’s courses,” UW Oshkosh Provost Lane Earns said. “Beyond our green, bricks-and-mortar investments in the institution, we have deeply committed ourselves to keeping an exploration of sustainability as a part of every single UW Oshkosh student’s general education. It is only right that a University nationally known for green practices ensures its classroom learning and high-impact educational collaborations have this important principle as a foundational component.”
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Petra Roter, who serves as the institution’s interim chancellor this fall, credited the vision of students for helping plant the seeds that have led to UW Oshkosh’s tradition and national reputation for sustainable life and learning on campus.
“Our state has been a strong supporter of our investment in sustainable practices, green building and environmental stewardship at UW Oshkosh,” Roter said. “However, we cannot diminish the fact that it was our students who, more than a decade ago, began to challenge the administration to recycle more, to embrace renewable energy and to find ways to leverage these initiatives as a part of their educational experiences and lives on campus. Given our annual, high national rankings in the Cool Schools process, and a host of other thorough measures that gauge and confirm our sustainable strides, I think we owe our students a debt of gratitude for their vision and ongoing commitment.”