Whether it’s a commitment to taking public transportation to work or classes, recycling or reducing energy usage, there are countless sustainability champions across campus who do their part to make Case Western Reserve University more green.

These efforts are being recognized—most recently by The Princeton Review, which named the university to its Top 50 Green Colleges List for the first time, at No. 35.

Each year, schools across the country apply for sustainability recognition from The Princeton Review, with the top 50 earning additional commendations.

In addition to test preparation services, The Princeton Review ranks colleges and universities and gives insight into life at the top institutions across the country—making it a frequently referenced source by prospective undergraduate students.

For that reason, Case Western Reserve University’s improved ranking may make a difference for those who are interested in environmentalism, said Stephanie Corbett, director of the Office of Energy & Sustainability.

The ranking process

Using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), schools across the country share data on their sustainability efforts in wide-ranging areas, including a school’s waste-diversion rate, transportation and commuting options, local food options, sustainable construction practices, courses that incorporate sustainability and more.

Once they input data into the comprehensive benchmarking tool, schools can then share the data with The Princeton Review and the Sierra Club for consideration for each organization’s sustainability ranking programs.

The university had been named to The Princeton Review’s Green Rating in previous years, but had never been earned the distinction of being in the top 50.

This year, the Office of Energy and Sustainability took a closer look at the data they submit to STARS.

Employing the services of consulting firm Sightlines with help from Facilities Services, the office was able to gather more detailed and accurate information from offices all across campus on their sustainability practices.

The firm helped secure data to complete more rigorous questions STARS asks—like whether computers the university purchases are Energy Star and EPEAT third-party certified and the distance food from Bon Appetit Management Co. travels.

The Princeton Review doesn’t share full details on how it scores schools. However, Corbett believes the renewed effort to collect more data along with several new projects may have helped. For example construction of the Nord Family Greenway to improve pedestrian and bike access to the Maltz Performing Arts Center and Tree Campus USA certification helped increase the university’s score.

What she does know for sure is that the university is on track to reach the Climate Action Plan goals it set in 2011 to what is now called the Carbon Commitment, an initiative to become climate neutral by 2050, President Barbara R. Snyder signed the university onto in 2008.

“We’re always seeking ways to do less harm and more good for the environment, but this is a really good reminder that even though we’re not to our end goal—climate neutrality—yet, we’re on the right path,” said Corbett.

A community-wide effort

The university also earned honors in several other sustainability rankings lists:

Just as STARS requests data encompassing departments and offices all across campus, Corbett notes that the university’s success in the rankings isn’t just about the bricks-and-mortar programs offered through the sustainability, facilities services and the planning, design and construction departments.

Corbett said faculty, staff and students demonstrate their passion for sustainability, whether it relates to food, biking to work or recycling.

“We have so many sustainability champions spread out throughout the university,” she said. “All of that individual energy means that the culture at Case [Western Reserve] is one that allows sustainability to not just be an office’s job, but one in which everybody has a stake in helping shift the university’s practices and footprint.”