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University of Arizona seizes spot on Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges list

Daniyal Arshad
Students hold up a banner for the Climate Change & Action walkout on Jan. 23. The event was led by members of UA’s Students for Sustainability organization.

For the first time in the history of the institution, the University of Arizona made The Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges list. 

This October, the Princeton Review released its annual “Guide to Green Colleges” in which it ranks the top 50 most sustainable and environmentally conscious colleges in the nation. This year, the University of Arizona ranked at number 50

“This is our first ever time in the top 50 and we are right at number 50, but being ranked for the first time ever is very exciting,” Trevor Ledbetter, the director of the Office of Sustainability at the UA, said. “University of Arizona is one of two schools in the top 50 that has over 40,000 students. The only other school in the top 50 that has over 40,000 schools, beyond us, is Arizona State. It’s a really good indication of how difficult it is for larger schools to do this and get that recognition.”

According to Ledbetter, many of the other schools on the list are smaller schools such as American University or College of the Atlantic. 

“They’re really small schools where it’s much easier to put the money behind what’s necessary to do these kinds of things, but there’s also a lot less to do in the first place,” Ledbetter said.

Considering this competition, the fact that UA ranked in the Princeton Review’s top 50 is an impressive feat, as well as a culmination of the hard work that the Office of Sustainability and the other energy-focused departments at the UA have been doing over the past few years, according to Ledbetter. 

“The University of Arizona entered into a large-scale renewable energy agreement with our local energy provider, Tucson Electric Power in 2019 and that came into effect in 2021. Because of that, we were able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by about 30% which is a huge number to be able to do in one fell swoop,” Ledbetter explained when talking about the contract with TEP, which allowed them to to purchase 100% of their green-based energy from renewable resources.

As he mentioned, the results of this decision could be seen with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on the UA campus. In regards to climate action and sustainability at the UA, this is a substantial win, according to Ledbetter.  

However, the UA is far from done when it comes to sustainability and progress. The Princeton Review ranking was one step in a larger process. 

Currently, Ledbetter and his team are in the process of submitting a profile to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education  and specifically their program called the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System

AASHE STARS is the program that the Princeton Review pulls a lot of their information from and it gives universities a ranking of platinum, gold, silver or bronze based on different components of the institution, like their greenhouse gas footprint or how many of their graduates are meeting certain sustainability, climate action and learning outcomes. 

The last time that the UA submitted their profile, back in 2017, they received a gold ranking. Because of the time that has passed, and the changes in the AASHE STARS ranking program since then, Ledbetter is unsure if the university still remains at gold or if they will have dropped to silver.

Even so, Ledbetter is less concerned with the ranking than he is with the general well-being of the university and its institutions. 

“I don’t like to chase points in order to get that goal,” Ledbetter said. “If we’re at silver, we’re at silver, and it’s an indication that we need to be doing better as an institution, in certain areas or across the board. AASHE STARS is a very helpful ruler to figure out where we’re at. But, I very much try to avoid what can become a trap of chasing a rating or ranking.

Overall, the Princeton Review ranking is still a big win for the Office of Sustainability and for the university as a whole, and a stepping stone for this ever changing process.

Ledbetter also reminded UA students that, while this seems out of their control, they contribute to these statistics every day. 

“Sustainability at an institution of our size is very much driven by the individual choices and actions of the people in our community. But ultimately, getting to some of the things that we’re working towards as an institution really requires everyone to be doing their part. Individual choices impact how sustainable we can be as an institution,” Ledbetter said.

According to Ledbetter, the Office of Sustainability hopes to receive their AASHE STARS ranking at the beginning of 2024, as they hope to submit their profile in either January or February. From there, they will see whether they rank at silver or gold and what needs to be improved at the university.

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