A College of the Atlantic student working with the school's <a href="/cec/">Community Energy Center </a>helps install solar panels on the roof of a nearby business.A College of the Atlantic student working with the school's Community Energy Center helps install solar panels on the roof of a nearby business.

Sierra, the official publication of the Sierra Club, released its eleventh annual “Cool Schools” ranking on August 22. Out of a possible 1000 points, College of the Atlantic finished with a first-place score of 779.58. The Cool Schools ranking lists America’s most environmentally-minded colleges and universities.

“The core of College of the Atlantic’s mission is to engage students in the interdisciplinary study of the relationship between humans and the environment,” says College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins ’92. “We’re proud of the changes we’ve made in moving away from fossil fuels and improving the sustainability of our college. But what’s most important is that students are involved to the fullest extent possible. This year our students led an effort to completely overhaul how we handle waste and think about consumption on campus, and class projects have installed solar panels and improved energy efficiency. We strongly believe that involving students in projects like this is crucial for preparing them to be effective environmental leaders.”

“We continue to be inspired by the creative and innovative ways colleges and universities across the country are working to tackle the climate crisis and move toward a sustainable future,” Jason Mark, Sierra magazine’s editor in chief says. “From powering campuses with clean energy to educating students on new methods of sustainability, it is this leadership that is driving positive change and helping to shape a future that is clean, just, and equitable for all.”

Handling honeybees is part of a typical day for students in College of the Atlantic's Bees and S...Handling honeybees is part of a typical day for students in College of the Atlantic's Bees and Society course. Hives are maintained at COA's Peggy Rockefeller Farms.

More than 200 schools participated in Sierra’s extensive survey about sustainability practices on their campus. Schools ranked in the top 20 have displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues, and encouraging environmental responsibility. Using a customized scoring system, Sierra’s researchers ranked the universities based on their commitment to upholding high environmental standards.

College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins '92.College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins '92.“The academic program at COA combines classroom instruction with a wide range of opportunities to participate in efforts to address environmental and social justice,” says Collins. “In addition to our oceanfront campus, we have two island research stations, two organic farms, and Acadia National Park right in our backyard. These facilities make it possible to give students extraordinary, hands-on learning in sustainability, conservation, and food systems.” COA students also participate in United Nations climate change negotiations, present research at scientific conferences, and work with local businesses and planning boards. Students can launch their own enterprises and organizations with the help of COA’s Diana Davis Spencer Hatchery, a venture incubator.

COA’s continued leadership in sustainability is highlighted by plans to divert 90% of discarded materials by 2025, use of 100% renewable electricity, and work on campus and in the community to bring sustainable practices to all facets of student life. According to Sierra’s Cool Schools rankings, at least 75 percent of COA’s faculty is engaged in sustainability research, while more than 35 percent of the classes offered are related to the environment, sustainability, and social justice.

“Year after year, we continue to see young people leading the fight against the climate crisis and toward a 100 percent sustainable future. That’s why students across the United States and in Puerto Rico are pushing their high schools and colleges to not only divest from fossil fuels but to commit to 100 percent localized clean energy,” says Karissa Gerhke, National Director of the Sierra Student Coalition. “The Sierra Student Coalition applauds these leaders and their schools for their innovation and leadership, and we look forward to working with them as they continue to do this important work.”

“The big challenges facing the world–climate, food, water–are inherently interdisciplinary,” notes COA Academic Dean Ken Hill. “Our interdisciplinary, self-designed program gives students the ability to combine their interests and passions while they gain experience and skills to bring to bear on environmental and social challenges.”

The full ranking of 227 colleges and universities, including each school’s completed questionnaire, is online at http://www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.

College of the Atlantic students hike through the Maine wilderness as part of the annual OOPs (Ou...College of the Atlantic students hike through the Maine wilderness as part of the annual OOPs (Outdoor Orientation Programs) trips. The Guardian covered COA's innovative orientation programs, including OOPs, in Welcome to Alt-Freshman Orientation: Veganism 101 and Intro to Zine Making.

College of the Atlantic is the first college in the U.S. to focus on the relationship between humans and the environment. In 2016, both The Princeton Review and the Sierra Club named College of the Atlantic the #1 Green College in the United States. The intentionally small school of 350 students and 35 faculty members offers a Bachelor of Arts degree in human ecology—the study of how humans interact with our natural, social and technological environments. Each student develops their own course of study in human ecology, collaborating and innovating across multiple disciplines. For more information, visit www.coa.edu

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, go to www.sierramagazine.com.