MU rises in Sierra Magazine's 'green' college ranks

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 | 4:24 p.m. CDT; updated 10:23 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 17, 2010

COLUMBIA — MU is getting greener, according to Sierra Magazine, a publication of the Sierra Club.

The Columbia campus was ranked 116 out of 164 participating colleges in the publication’s 2010 Cool Schools green colleges index — an improvement over MU’s ranking in 2009 when it placed 134 out of 135 institutions.

The rankings, available online, will be published in the magazine's September/October issue.

Initiatives such as the new Sustainability Office created in April 2009 and a completed report on greenhouse-gas emissions were cited for putting MU on Cool Schools’ separate most improved list.

The Sustainability Office was also applauded for its energy dashboard program, which encourages residence halls to compete against one another to consume the least.

The rankings were based on surveys sent to more than 900 four-year undergraduate colleges; 164 elected to participate. Survey questions were designed to measure each school’s environmental goals and achievements.

The data was broken into 10 categories: energy supply, efficiency, food, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste management, administration, financial investments and other initiatives. Each category was worth a maximum of 10 points.

Scoring a total of 54.6 points out of a possible 100, MU received high marks in the academics and administration fields.

Avital Binshtock, lifestyle editor at Sierra Magazine, said the academics section measured such things as sustainability-related courses and environmental research efforts. The high administration scores reflect the university’s environmentally conscious philosophies as well as its employment of sustainability professionals.

MU posted low scores in the investments and energy supply categories. Binshtock said the investments score could improve if university officials give greater consideration to the environmental effects of the school’s investments. The energy supply issue will be more difficult to solve.

“The school gets more than 87 percent of its energy from coal power supplies,” Binshtock said.

Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman of the Columbia-based Osage Group Sierra Club, said he thought MU’s 3.2 energy supply rating was too generous given its dependence on coal power.

“I would rate them zero on that,” Midkiff said.

MU spokesman Christian Basi acknowledged the university’s coal reliance but pointed out that it has been experimenting with alternative fuel sources and burning methods that produce reduced bio-waste. A recent federal stimulus grant provides about $4 million that will allow the university and partner schools to create curricula intended to prepare students for careers in the energy sector.

Basi said these efforts are driven by the university’s commitment to advancing its own sustainability.  

“We’re not doing the work so that we can rank positively,” he said. “We’re doing this to enhance our sustainability capabilities.”

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