Green College Sports

Who’s The #1 Green-Sports University?


The University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies won 3 championships in 2013-14: Men’s basketball (its 4th), women’s hoops (9th), and the #1 Greenest/Coolest University* designation (its first!) per the Sierra Club’s annual rankings (methodology here).

With the 2014-15 academic and athletic years about to start, GreenSportsBlog takes a look at the new Sierra Club Top 10 Greenest Universities list and compares it to the top performers in college football and basketball to see if/where there is overlap, and anoints a first ever Greenest-Sportsiest-Super Coolest University.


UConn’s Green-Sports Triple (men’s and women’s basketball championship + Sierra Club’s Greenest/Coolest University) will be almost impossible for any school to duplicate for four reasons:

  1. It’s incredibly hard for one school to win both the men’s and women’s basketball championships in the same year. Its only been done twice, both times by UConn.
  2. UConn’s men’s squad won’t be that good this year, due to the graduation of star guard Shabazz Napier.
  3. Most of the schools on the Sierra Club Greenest Universities list don’t play Division I sports
  4. UConn already has been dropped by the Sierra Club from the top spot in its survey.

Despite the long odds in winning a “Treble”, there is certainly significant overlap between the greenest and the greatest (athletic) universities. And so GreenSportsBlog, working off of the Sierra Club’s Greenest/Coolest list will choose its first-ever Greenest-Sportsiest University. Let’s take a look at the Sierra Club’s list to see which schools are in contention for the GSB GSU:

This years’s Greenest/Coolest list is topped this year by University of California, Irvine (UCI), which won the title due in part to “its three on-campus solar projects, a 19-megawatt turbine cogeneration plant and a record of consistently exceeding energy-efficiency goals.”

On the sports side of the ledger, the Anteaters (is that a great team name or what?!?) don’t field a varsity football team but are Division I in all other sports. They are best known for baseball (College World Series participants 2X), men’s volleyball (4 national championships, including 2012 and 2013), and men’s water polo (3 national titles, most recently in 1989). Not UConn level, but pretty impressive.

Second on Sierra’s Green Universities list is American University in Washington, DC., thanks to the largest solar array in the Nation’s Capital. The AU Eagles, playing in the D-I (except for football) Patriot League (i.e. Lehigh, Bucknell, etc.), are not yet a sports powerhouse.

Third per Sierra is last year’s #2, Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA). Lauded for its leadership in Organic Farming, Division III (smallest schools, sports-wise) Dickinson also takes pride in men’s lacrosse, having qualified for the D-III NCAA Tournament 4 times since 2010.


Students at Dickinson College, ranked 3rd in the Sierra Club’s Greenest/Coolest Universities, turn waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. (Photo Credit: Carl Socolow/Dickinson College)



Sierra’s #4, Loyola of Chicago, had One Shining Moment of athletic glory, winning the men’s NCAA Championship (that’s right, Division I) in 1963. Environmentally, it features extensive recycling and composting programs and a new Institute of Environmental Sustainability.

#5 is Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR (not surprised that a Portland-based school makes the top 10, are you?) is known for its sustainable food program (25% of ingredients served on campus are sourced from within 100 miles.) The Pioneers are not an athletics powerhouse, playing in the D-III Northwest Conference.

Stanford, in at #6 on the Sierra Club list, may be the biggest threat to duplicate UConn’s treble at some point. They will likely remain a fixture in the Green Top 10, as they are divesting from investments in coal, and own 300 (and counting) electric vehicles, out of a fleet of 1,000. Athletically, the Cardinal is a flat-out powerhouse, winning 105 NCAA national championships all-time (2nd overall behind UCLA).

The football team is picked #9 by Sports Illustrated. The Men’s basketball team reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament this March, shocking #2 seed Kansas along the way, and is likely to make the Big Dance again this season. The Women’s basketball squad made it to the Final Four, falling to UConn, and is projected to be a national contender again.

The University of South Florida (USF) makes its first appearance in the Green Top 10, at #7. The Tampa-based school was cited by Sierra for “America’s first 20,000-watt solar charging station for electric vehicles (EVs); the Clean Energy Research Center, where students work on fuel-cell and solar technologies; and the Power Center for Utility Explorations, which builds smart grids.”

The Bulls are a relative newcomer to big-time college sports, with its football program going D-IA (the biggest-time) in 2001. By October 2007 they climbed to #2 in the national polls before falling to Rutgers#. USF has won league championships in Men’s Golf and Men’s Soccer.

It’s a surprise to me that #8 Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT is anything other than #1 in the Sierra Club rankings.

The school’s mission statement identifies the environment “as the unifying theme underlying its academic programs.” Most classes touch on ecological themes. Energy sources are largely clean, including “a 150-kilowatt, biomass-fueled steam turbine to generate electricity, a new 156-kilowatt solar array, and a biomass plant that turns locally sourced wood chips into heat.” Green Mountain is not a threat to do serious (D-III) athletics damage as it’s not a major point of emphasis there. It should be noted, however, that the Eagles do field a top-notch club-level (not varsity) Quidditch team.

UConn, while no longer in the Sierra Club’s top spot, remains a green contender at #9, by virtue of its “huge water-conservation initiative, car- and bike-sharing programs,” and a multitude of environmentally themed courses. The success of its men’s and women’s basketball teams is astounding, when one considers the school is in the middle of nowhere (Storrs) and had no tradition of excellence before women’s coach Geno Auriemma began his career there in 1985 and former men’s coach Jim Calhoun took over in 1986.

UConn, like USF is a relative newbie in D-I football. While it has sent several players to the NFL and has played in a few bowl games, UConn is in the 2nd-tier American Athletic Conference and will likely find it difficult to make it to the top echelon on the gridiron anytime soon.


Thomas Worthey, an assistant extension professor at the University of Connecticut (UConn), leads an “exurban silviculture” class, during which students create management plans for tree plots in the school’s forest. (Photo Credit: Peter Morenus/University of Connecticut)


Rounding out the Sierra Greenest/Coolest Top 10 is Georgia Tech (Atlanta). They earned Green points for, among other things, their efforts to reduce storm water runoff:  “The school has added pervious surfaces, removed paved parking lots, taken on 13 campus reforestation projects, and installed cisterns that, together, can hold 2.4 million gallons of rainwater.” Tech also has one of the most storied histories in college athletics and one of the greatest fight songs, “I’m A Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech”. But, while they field competitive teams in football, men’s basketball, men’s golf and women’s softball in the ACC, one of the toughest conferences in collegiate sports, Georgia Tech rarely competes for national championships these days.

So, now that we’ve reviewed the Sierra Club’s Greenest/Coolest list, the question on everyone’s mind is:

Which school wins the GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest-Sports-iest? In a very close vote between UConn and Stanford, the GSB Editorial Board chose Stanford as the Greenest-Sportsiest, based on its higher Sierra Club Green/Cool ranking, the expectation that its football and men’s basketball teams will be better than those of the Huskies, and the prediction that its women’s basketball team will be at least close to the UConn Women. Congratulations to Stanford.

As for UConn (and Georgia Tech, USF and the rest for that matter)? Go prove us wrong!

And congratulations to UC Irvine and the rest of the Sierra Club’s Top 10 Greenest/Coolest Universities. As you enjoy college athletics this year, take time out to visit your alma mater’s or favorite team’s sustainability website to see what they’re doing on the green front. Who knows, your school may make the Sierra Club’s Greenest/Coolest Universities Top 10 in 2015.


* According to the Sierra Club, Greenest = Coolest, which is so, well, cool!
# GSB will never miss an opportunity to plug Rutgers, my alma mater!

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  1. Great intel Lew. Interestingly enough Harvard University was the first U.S. college endowment to sign the UN-PRI agreement, but looks like Harvard did not make Sierra Club’s Top 10. Disappointed to see Lehigh failed to make the cut as well!

  2. Glad you liked it, Jen. Here is the link to the full Sierra Club list of 173 colleges and universities which filled out the survey: Harvard finished #19, getting top scores for Innovation and Sustainable Purchasing but falling well short on Energy (both on site generation and purchasing of clean energy). Lehigh finished #138, notching 0 points on Investments and Innovation. Given your interest in SRI, maybe you can advise your alma mater on Investments so they can at least score some points in 2015. FYI, Rutgers, my alma mater, didn’t even fill out the survey. Weak out of the Scarlet Knights.

  3. […] We’ve looked at the Sierra College’s Top 10 Greenest Colleges/Universities through a sports lens. And, just a couple of weeks ago, we highlighted the Zero-Waste efforts of 3 major sports […]

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