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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ranks 39th among 200 colleges and universities nationwide, according to the Sierra Club “Cool Schools” annual sustainability report. The “Cool Schools” ranking serves as a guide for prospective students to compare schools’ commitment to sustainability.

Carolina was recognized with high scores in the categories of innovation, co-curricular activities, planning, food and water. In the decade since the survey was launched, Carolina consistently has been recognized as one of the leading U.S. institutions for sustainability.

Carolina’s ranking recognizes the long-term success of its many sustainability initiatives, such as reducing water use by 12 percent in the face of campus growth of 7.3 million square feet since 2000. The Carolina Three Zeros Initiative — the new campus plan to move the campus toward water neutrality, zero waste, and greenhouse gas neutrality — and newly published Sustainability Plan drove a top score in the planning category.

Carolina’s high mark in the food category of the ranking results from a variety of initiatives on campus, including sustainable practices in Carolina Dining Services, the new UNC Edible Campus project, the “Food For All” university academic theme and the Carolina Campus Community Garden. The co-curricular ranking rewards the high rate of student involvement in sustainability efforts on campus, such as the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, the Sonder Market — a sustainable, local, student-run grocery — and the EcoReps organization.

The Sierra Club, which is the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States, bases the school rankings on sustainability data collected in a range of areas. The raw data for scoring comes from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) STARS self-reporting tool. The Sierra Club then takes the data and scores it across 64 questions. The scoring methodology was updated this year to reflect increased emphasis on climate-related issues.

“Continuing to transform UNC-Chapel Hill into a living-learning laboratory for sustainability will be a journey, and we’re only just beginning,” said Brad Ives, the University’s chief sustainability officer and associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises. “While we have already positioned Carolina as a sustainability leader among our peers, we are ready to embrace a host of new, sustainability-related opportunities by building upon our unique culture of service and innovation.”

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