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The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh again earned the highest ranking in the state and is overall ranked third in the country on the prestigious Sierra Club “Coolest Schools” list—a list that recognizes colleges and universities for their commitment to and practice of sustainability.

Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, released its ninth annual “Cool Schools” ranking Aug. 11 of America’s greenest colleges and universities. Each of the schools ranked in the top 20 have displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues and encouraging environmental and social responsibility.

“Of course this accolade is good for all of us at UW Oshkosh—it’s nice to be recognized for all that we are doing at the University,” said Brian Kermath, sustainability director at UW Oshkosh. “It shows we continue to make significant strides in the right direction. It also points to the many other campuses doing good work, which is a good thing, of course; that’s what we want—collectively to make the world a better place now and into a long durable future.”

“We must also be mindful that to rise to the highest level of sustainability leadership, we’ll need to maintain an accelerating pace of achievement, because our efforts around sustainability are far from complete.”

More than 150 schools filled out Sierra’s extensive survey about sustainability practices on campus. Using a customized scoring system, Sierra’s researchers ranked the universities based on their commitment to upholding high sustainability standards.

At UW Oshkosh, Cassandra Fowler, a student intern in the sustainability office, coordinates the effort of compiling data to submit for tracking via the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System(STARS); STARS is a program of the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The Sierra Club uses the reported data to compare schools, Kermath said.

“It’s a huge task to coordinate the data from so many sources around campus, but it has really helped me see the different aspects of sustainability and the infinite number of opportunities to get involved,” said Fowler, who is studying environmental studies and biology at UW Oshkosh. “My internship allowed me to take charge of my college experience, get more involved on campus and realize my own potential. I find myself taking what I am learning at my internship into the classroom, as well as taking what I am learning in the classroom and applying it at my internship.”

Ahead of UW Oshkosh, only two schools—University of California at Irvine and Davis. UW Oshkosh is the only school in Wisconsin to make the top 20 list. In previous years, UW Oshkosh ranked between 14 and 29, but has never previously made it into the top 10 in ranking, Kermath said. The full ranking of 153 colleges is online at

“A lot of hard work from all across campus made this number three rank possible— from facilities management to student affairs, residence life, purchasing, academic affairs and a lot of other areas on campus,” Kermath said. “The particular points of distinction that put UW Oshkosh in such good company include the biodigester projects, which turn waste to energy, and the University’s general education program, the University Studies Program.”

Kermath and campus leaders said it is also partnerships that help make UW Oshkosh effective.

UW Oshkosh’s dry fermentation biodigester

“The Viessmann Group from Allendorf, Germany has played an important role as a partner with UW Oshkosh by supplying biodigester technology to the campus, which helps us aim for our sustainability goals. Producing our own energy by reusing waste sets an example for higher education institutions throughout the country,” said Tom Sonnleitner, vice chancellor of Finance and Administration at UW Oshkosh.

According to the Sierra Club, efforts from building green to saving water to offering hundreds of sustainability related classes are among the things considered when ranking schools.

Factors that helped the institutions at the top of Sierra’s list include: dining halls that serve organic, local foods; waste systems that divert trash away from landfills; transportation options that keep students and staff out of cars; academic programs that are heavily eco-focused; and strong methods in place to conserve water and energy.

Innovations in sustainability are integrated into many University functions and operations at UW Oshkosh, Kermath said. Actions involve reducing consumption and wastes, generating and purchasing renewable energy, curbing pollution, green building and purchasing, and sustainable landscapes.

UW Oshkosh is committed to progressively reducing its ecological footprint and fashioning a durable and better world through its academic mission by infusing sustainability into the curriculum, outreach and research.

UW Oshkosh practices a commitment to sustainability through the University’s general education program—the University Studies Program (USP), which charges students to, among other questions, respond to “How do people understand and create a more sustainable world?”

“To be ranked as number one in Wisconsin and third in the country is an incredible accomplishment—one to celebrate,” UW Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt said. “The work the campus community has done in the area of sustainability is one of the things that drew me to UW Oshkosh. Now, I’m excited to help shape an even more celebrated future as we continue the upward trend.”

About Sierra magazine
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. For more information, go to

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