The Greenest of Them All? Why CMC and Mudd beat Pitzer in sustainability rankings

The Princeton Review recently partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council to publish its first Guide to 286 Green Colleges. Only two of the five Claremont Colleges were included on this list. If your first thought after reading this statement was “Pitzer,” you are incorrect. Both Claremont McKenna and Harvey Mudd, however, made the cut.

Claremont students seem to perceive Pitzer as far “greener” than the other four colleges. When asked what about Pitzer “screams green,” one Scripps student replied, “The dining hall food seems organic and environmentally friendly.” A CMC student echoed her views, noting that the “overall social awareness of the students” adds to Pitzer’s “green feel.”

At first glance, however, the Princeton Review and the U.S. Green Building Council think otherwise. In ranking each college on a scale from 60 to 99 and deeming CMC and Harvey Mudd the “greenest” of the Claremont Colleges, they considered several factors: percentage of food budget spent on local/organic food, available transportation alternatives, whether the school has a formal sustainability committee, and what percentage of the school’s energy comes from renewable sources.

Considering these criteria, the Port Side did some investigating to see how Pitzer, the seemingly “greenest” Claremont College, stacked up and why it was not included. According to the sustainability page on Pitzer’s website, “Green is not merely a buzz word or a get-on-the-bandwagon trend at Pitzer College.” Pitzer President Laura Trombley has stated that “[Pitzer] students have set up vegetable gardens, composting areas…and campus xeriscaping,” a style of landscape design requiring little or no irrigation.

The site also states that Pitzer is poised to become the first college in the nation to have all Gold LEED certified residence halls as a result of a three-phase construction project in process. This is one area where Pitzer undoubtedly has CMC beat. But CMC is trying. Sophomore Katie Browning, President of CMC’s environmental club SPEAR, noted that “Claremont Hall has Silver LEED certification, and the campus is aiming for overall LEED certification.” Furthermore, according to CMC Director of Facilities Brian Worley, “while CMC currently has no Gold LEED certified buildings, the new Kravis Center will be gold-certified.”

Both Browning and Worley were surprised at Pitzer’s exclusion from the Guide to 286 Green Colleges. Worley expressed his concerns, noting, “when I sit down with my fellow Facilities Directors and talk about the focus of each campus,” Pitzer’s sustainability priorities are clear. However, he assured the Port Side that “with all of these kinds of surveys, you always have anomalies where somebody just misses something.”

Worley’s prediction could not have been more accurate. Jeanne Krier, a publicist for Random House and Princeton Review Books, explained that the Guide to 286 Green Colleges was compiled based on survey data from the 2008–2009 academic year, and that Pitzer wasn’t included because “whatever survey information we had simply wasn’t enough.”

David Soto, Princeton Review College Ratings and Rankings Director, reiterated Krier’s statement that Pitzer’s exclusion was simply an issue of data reporting (or lack thereof). He told the Port Side that during the 2008–2009 school year, 2,000 colleges were sent environmental sustainability surveys; approximately 700 completed them. Only these colleges’ ratings were used to compile the first edition of the Guide to 286 Green Colleges, which was released on Earth Day 2010.

The Princeton Review is scheduled to release a second edition of the guide on Earth Day 2011, and Soto said that Pitzer, which currently has an online green rating of 98, “has since returned the survey and will certainly be included in the new edition.” The irony of the situation is that CMC, with a current online green rating of 86, may be bumped off the 2011 edition. Moral of the story: college ratings and rankings should be taken with a grain of salt.

Sara Birkenthal is a senior at CMC majoring in International Relations and Middle East Studies.

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