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Mills is too cool for other schools

Sophomore Miranda Felix (left), Britta Bullard (middle) and sophomore Emily Csikszentmihalyi (right) promote sustainability at the Toyon Meadow Block Party last Thursday. (Shelby Gibbs)

Mills College is officially cool. Sierra Magazine has ranked Mills as one of the most environmentally-friendly schools in the nation in its annual “Coolest Schools” survey. This is the first year Mills College has received recognition for its sustainability efforts.

For the fourth year in a row, 900 universities and colleges across the nation were asked to submit a questionnaire regarding their efforts to go green. Out of 162 respondents, Mills College tied for 84th-place with Drexel University and the University of Florida, earning itself a spot on the coveted Top 100 list.

Mills student Mel Holmes uses her AC Transit EasyPass on her way to and from the College. (Shelby Gibbs)

There are a number of factors that gave Mills an extra edge in the competition this year, including the AC Transit EasyPass program which began in fall 2009. The unlimited AC Transit pass was included in student fees, making public transportation a cheap and easy option for commuter and residential students.

“Functionally, having the AC Transit pass … for all students is really innovative,” said Emma Casper, a sophomore biopsychology major who drove to school while waiting for her EasyPass, but plans on using AC Transit at least three times a week.

Similarly, Mills College’s large use of recycling and compost bins won favor among students.

“On a simpler level, I like how [the school] breaks down components of trash, and you really have to think about what you toss out,” Casper said.

“Not all schools would have the compost bins that we have everywhere,” said Jamie Aurand, a sophomore creative writing major. “Maybe they would have recycling bins, but not as much as we have here.”

Recycling and compost bins make Mills College one of Sierra Magazine’s Top 100 Coolest Schools. (Shelby Gibbs)

Recycling and composting are at the forefront of Recycling Manager Britta Bullard’s hope for implementing the four R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle and rot – to make Mills an even more sustainable campus.

“The recycling and composting programs are growing every year, and I envision Mills College climbing the ranks in the RecycleMania this year,” sophomore Bullard said. “A highlight for me over the last year has been the installing of outdoor compost bins in the Plaza and the development of resource recovery stations and events.”

Mills’ commitment to waste management earned  big points with Avital Binshtock and Kyle Boelte, the co-writers of the Sierra Magazine article. They gave Mills a perfect score for its high waste diversion rate, meaning most of the waste produced at Mills doesn’t go to a landfill.

“Most schools are not close to 60 percent, so Mills stood out,” Binshtock said. She also praised the college’s goal of reducing campus waste to 0 percent.

While Mills College achieved an honorable ranking, staff see definite room for improvement. Specifically, Bullard would like to see “a bike culture with resources on campus. My vision is a weekly ‘bike kitchen'” with simple repair supplies and more bike racks.

Staff would also like to improve in investments, an area in which Sierra Magazine ranked Mills poorly. The investments category measures where schools invest their endowment funds. Schools investing in environmental causes receive high marks. According to Binshtock, Mills College’s investments were too vague to receive credit.

Now that Mills officially ranks among the “coolest” colleges in the country, exactly how cool is it compared to other colleges and universities?

Aurand called attention to the subjectivity of the ranking.

“I wouldn’t judge a campus based on whether it’s ‘cool.’ Other people think having parties is cool. We don’t really have parties, but I wouldn’t say Mills is uncool,” she said.

Emma Casper, who recently transferred, finds the passion and drive of Mills students and faculty especially “cool.”

“Everyone … here has a passion what they’re studying and doing. They’re looking forward,” Casper said.

Bullard, however, finds “coolness” in her peers and the College in the same place Sierra Magazine does: in the campus sustainability efforts.

“What’s cool about Mills? The community of students, staff and faculty that create a culture of sustainability at Mills,” she said. “I enjoy cooling off after a day of pulling invasive plant species from the campus creek restoration sites, drinking water from my reusable metal water bottle and basking in the work we did as a community to improve our campus ecosystem.”

Local schools on the magazine’s list included the University of California, Berkeley with a rank of 31 and San Francisco State University with a rank of 69.