This article was originally published on Downtown Devil

On September 9 the Sierra Club ranked Arizona State University one of the most sustainable schools in the nation.

In a ranking that surveyed 328 schools across the United States and Canada, Arizona State University ranked first in the “Cool Schools” category. The list of the Top 20 schools released by the Sierra Club Magazine included five University of California Schools and Cornell University. 

This year’s ranking is 3 spots higher than last year’s. The Sierra Club calculates its ranks using complex arithmetic from the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating Systems, also known as the Star Report. 

The Sierra Club takes the base number of the score and multiplies it by its “weight adjustment” to create its own scale for the university level to help reflect the club’s priorities.

According to The Sierra Magazine’s weight breakdown, 25% of the emphasis was placed on academic achievement, 20% on engagement, 45% on operations, and 10% on planning and administrations.

In total, the University ranked 1st in total points with 91.31. 

This was a big moment for the school.

“Anytime a recognized organization chooses to identify us as being exemplary in some sense of progressive sustainability we appreciate that” said Gary Dirks, Senior Director of Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and of the project LightWorks.

“I think it is an acknowledgment of what we are trying to accomplish but I think we still have a ton of work to do,”  Scott Cloutier, assistant professor at the School of Sustainability and the director of the Sustainability and Happiness Research Lab, said. 

The Sustainability and Happiness Research Lab is just one of ASU’s many initiatives through the school of Sustainability.

The project, which started in 2011 during Cloutier’s P.H.D program and transferred to ASU in 2013, conducts research and focuses on helping communities reach a higher level of happiness which comes through being in touch with nature. 

The Sustainability and Happiness Research Lab is just a small component of the School of Sustainability and the overall College of Global Futures. Dr. Dirks focussed on the clean energy aspect of the College.

Dirks said, “Our interest is in facilitating the arrival of a new energy system globally that addresses climate change but also maintains reliability and is also equitable.” 

This year, the university launched several projects and initiatives including the Allen Coral Atlas Monitoring System in partnership with the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

According to a press release, the purpose of the system is to “provide a comprehensive and unprecedented picture of changes to coral reefs over time, giving scientists …  information urgently needed for rapid response and conservation.” 

The University also won the honor after an initiative launched earlier this year that looks to save burrowing owls. Classified as a “species of concern” by the U.S Fish and Wildlife reserve, the four owls are kept in a habitat built on the ASU Polytechnic Campus. This project has been in the making for over a year.

A June 2021 press release aid that this project is meant to “monitor habitats for burrowing owl pairs who need relocating.” Owls are carefully taken care of in the habitat for up to a month and softly released back out into the wild. 

In addition to achievements on the research front, ASU received recognition in part due to the emphasis they place on sustainability in their education. The Sierra Club acknowledges ASU’s new priorities.

 “I think that the work we are doing now is bringing in things around equity, justice, inclusion, and diversity,” Cloutier said. 

This comes after the University’s new major, in partnership with the Watts College of Public Service, a B.A in Community Development. The program is centered around solving major issues in the next generation. 

According to Cloutier, all of these developments are thanks to the ASU infrastructure and faculty.

“It helps to have a dynamic President and a dynamic administration that is supportive, that helps us get funding to support the work that we do. So there is a whole array of things at ASU that make it a very promising place to do this work,” Cloutier said. 

Cloutier wants everyone to remember, “The award is nice and the reward is nice, but I still know and acknowledge—and I think a lot of my colleagues would acknowledge—that we still have a lot of work to do.”