Sierra Club praises Orange County’s UC campus for solar power, student environmental clubs.

IRVINE – UC Irvine has been ranked the third-greenest college in the nation by the Sierra Club environmental group; the school bested all other University of California campuses and achieved its highest ranking.

Sierra Club officials cited the 4,800 solar panels on UCI’s sprawling campus, which generate enough electricity to power 500 homes, as well as the dozen student-led campus clubs that focus on sustainability and eco-literacy.

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Giant automated solar panels rotate based on the position of the sun and an array of weather conditions on a UC Irvine hilltop.
Greenest California Colleges

No. 3: UC Irvine

No. 4: UC Davis

No. 7: Stanford

No. 10: UC Santa Barbara

No. 20: UC San Diego

No. 21: UC Santa Cruz

No. 25: UC Berkeley

No. 32: UCLA

No. 36: Santa Clara U.

No. 44: UC Merced

No. 48: Cal Poly Pomona

Source: Sierra Club

The University of Connecticut and Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College clinched the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, in the Sierra Club’s seventh annual ratings of U.S. Cool Schools.

UC Davis – last year’s top-ranked U.S. college – slipped to No. 4.

“This is great news for UCI,” said Richard Demerjian, UC Irvine’s director of environmental planning and sustainability. “It takes the entire campus community working together – our faculty, our students who work on co-curricular and peer-to-peer programs, and staff who work on campus operations.”

The ratings, released Wednesday, are based on a weighted index of dozens of criteria developed by the San Francisco-based Sierra Club – including whether a college uses green cleaning products and whether it has a financial investment policy that considers environmental impacts.

UCI was ranked No. 9 last year and has been in the Sierra Club’s top 10 for four consecutive years. Some 162 four-year U.S. colleges voluntarily submitted data and were ranked this year.

“I’m excited that at a time when sustainability is becoming ever more important, we earned our highest ranking ever,” UCI Chancellor Michael Drake said in a statement.

In writing about its rankings this year, the Sierra Club chronicled the importance of a robust environmental curriculum.

“Story after story confirms that the environmentalism surrounding students during college sticks with them,” the Sierra Club said.

At UCI, nearly 200 faculty members conduct research and provide instruction on such topics as water resource management, global systems modeling, climate change-related famine and land-use planning, the university said.

UCI bills its earth-system-science department as the first of its kind in the nation to take an interdisciplinary approach to studying how humans impact the environment.

“Sustainability at UCI is a small community, but we’re making a big impact,” said UCI student Nicole Larson, 20, who sits on the undergraduate student government’s The Green Initiative Fund commission.

With a $150,000 annual budget, the commission has been able to fund a number of creative, student-initiated eco-literacy projects, said Larson, a third-year earth-system-science major.

Students have retrofitted a student housing irrigation system with new water-conserving sprinkler heads, rented a campus performance stage powered by solar panels, and provided reusable water bottles and locally sourced food for a charity race, Larson said.

“Everyone puts in a lot of time on their applications, researching their projects and doing small background things to make things happen,” Larson said.

Other UC Irvine sustainability initiatives include:

•A model dorm room called the Green Room in a campus residence hall that shows incoming students how to buy environmentally friendly products.

•More than 20 hydration stations all across campus that dispense free, filtered water, reducing the need to buy plastic bottles of water.

•A zero-waste dining hall in which all the waste is recycled or composted.

•Smart Lab airflow systems that monitor airborne contaminants in science labs and pump in fresh air only when necessary.

•Automatic lights that are only powered at 50 percent, requiring the occupant to manually switch the lights to 100 percent as necessary.