The Top 20 Coolest Schools 2021
Get to know today's most sustainable colleges and universities
If the coolest schools of 2021 had a motto, it might be "Never let a crisis go to waste." During a year like no other, these colleges' and universities' sustainability officers took a deep look at how their schools operated and devised new and innovative ways to reduce their schools' ecological footprints. Largely while sheltering in their screens, these campus administrators did the quiet, behind-the-scenes work of getting more sustainable infrastructure in place while developing new ways to engage students and their communities. Despite having to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols that complicated existing initiatives like phasing out single-use plastic bags and takeout containers, they found creative ways to manage or even minimize their waste streams, and even more important, their greenhouse gas emissions. They asked their university communities not how their schools could return to "normal" after pandemic lockdowns but how they could rebuild while fostering more ecologically regenerative and equitable ways of learning and operating.
In our 15th year ranking colleges according to their eco bona fides and environmental commitments, a record 328 schools across the United States and Canada participated in our survey. While each institution on our list demonstrates a deep commitment to addressing climate change, protecting the natural world, and encouraging environmental stewardship, many among the top-scoring schools whose representatives spoke to Sierra made a point of acknowledging that they'll never earn an A+ in sustainability—that sustainability is the very definition of a goal with no end. There's no point at which anyone at any of these schools can rest on their laurels and claim they've mastered living more lightly on the planet. The same, of course, goes for all of us.
At the same time, it's important to honor the good work these colleges and universities have done—so please join Sierra in congratulating the following 20 tremendously cool schools.