BAR HARBOR — College of the Atlantic is one of the greenest schools in the country, according to Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club.

COA rings in at #17 in the group’s annual “Cool Schools” ranking of America’s greenest colleges and universities. The coastal Maine college is cited for displaying a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues, and encouraging environmental responsibility. Their 2014 ranking was #67.

“We at Sierra are thrilled to see how much College of the Atlantic has jumped in our rankings from last year to this year,” said Sierra lifestyle editor Avital Andrews. “To land in our top 20 is no easy task and is a clear reflection of a school’s strong commitment to sustainability.”

COA joins Maine’s Colby College and Vermont’s Middlebury College and Green Mountain College as one of just four New England schools to make the top 20 Cool Schools list. Some of the factors that contributed to such high placement were waste systems that divert trash away from landfills, water and energy conservation initiatives, and eco-focused academic programs, Sierra officials said.

COA president Dr. Darron Collins said that while it is a thrill to be recognized for a strong environmental commitment, COA measures their true success by how well they inspire students to carry the banner of sustainability out into the wider world.

“Coming from an organization with the historical depth of the Sierra Club, this green rating is quite an honor,” Collins said. “But being green is not about how many solar panels we can plaster on campus; it’s about what learning outcomes emerge from having students design, build, site and fund those projects.”

COA is known for including its students in campus sustainability initiatives, and for facilitating situations where those students can hone their experience outside of campus. Programs have included a trip to an island in Denmark that is run on completely renewable energy to efficiency projects in the Maine island community that the school calls home, to plans for major, local solar installations.

“We need to effect much larger change than infrastructure improvements on our own campus, and the way we do that is by preparing our students to act as agents for change in the wider world,” Collins said. “That’s one of the reasons for our lengthy timeline to become fossil fuel-free by 2050. We could be much more ambitious, but we prefer to involve our students every step of the way, and to have them lead the process as much as possible.”

In order to determine the greenest colleges in the country, Sierra utilized an extensive survey, which was filled out by more than 150 schools. Using a customized scoring system, Sierra’s researchers ranked the universities based on their commitment to upholding high environmental standards. The results were published on Aug. 11.

“We’re so inspired to see how colleges are taking the lead on addressing climate change,” Andrews said. “From building green to saving water to offering hundreds of eco-classes, these schools’ efforts are profound, and are changing not only the campus grounds, but also the minds of the students they’re educating.”

COA is also recognized for its sustainable orientation by Popular Mechanics, who rank it as the #1 Greenest College in America and by The Princeton Review, who list the school at #8 out of their Top 50 Green Colleges.

Sierra is the official publication of the Sierra Club, America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 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.

College of the Atlantic enriches the liberal arts tradition through a distinctive educational philosophy—human ecology. A human ecological perspective integrates knowledge from all academic disciplines and from personal experience to investigate—and ultimately improve—the relationships between human beings and our social and natural communities. The human ecological perspective guides all aspects of education, research, activism, and interactions among the college’s students, faculty, staff, and trustees.