Higher Ed. Association Introduces Green Standard

WASHINGTON — The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education introduced a new sustainability tracking program designed to provide a framework for colleges and universities to gauge their progress with green initiatives.

The goal of the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System is to create campus incentives for sustainable improvements, enable comparisons and collaborations with sustainability practices using a common set of measurements, and build stronger campuses united in sustainability efforts.

The three-year program is available to all colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Several institutions, including American University, Carnegie Mellon University, Unity College and the University of Denver, have signed on.

AASHE began working to create a unified campus sustainability rating system with nonprofits and higher education associations three years ago. Nearly 70 institutions participated in the year-long pilot program, which combined suggestions and advice from school committees around the country into STARS 1.0.

The program is unique in that it assesses social indicators of institutions as well as environmental and profit factors, according to AASHE. The program includes credits for environmental, social and economic performance.

“STARS offers a comprehensive roadmap and review approach that guides and affirms sustainability in all of its facets,” says Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “STARS helps campus users plan actions and forecast achievements. STARS’s comprehensive design informs an approach to sustainability with the flexibility each campus needs to tailor activities to unique local conditions and context.”

The system requires reporting in three categories: education and research, including academic work toward sustainability programs; operations, including building design and operations and on-campus greenhouse gas emission reductions; and planning, including campus diversity, sustainable campus practices and public engagement.

“By framing sustainability in this way, STARS will require many individuals on a campus to come together to develop an understanding of how well the campus is doing and what else needs to be done,” says Paul Rowland, executive director of AASHE. “For many campuses, it will require greater collaboration within the campus.”

The STARS sustainability tracking assessment rating system monitors progress over time, taking a snapshot of practices to find strengths and areas that need more effort, while rewarding institutions for good work and encouraging and challenging them to move forward.

Institutions complete specific reporting fields to demonstrate that they’ve earned STARS credits, submitting facts and data through an online reporting tool. Universities and colleges are given a variety of rating levels depending on their proficiency, including STARS Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and STARS Reporter for institutions that don’t want to be rated.

The STARS registration fee is $900 for AASHE members or $1,400 for non-members. The tool is also available for free, without technical support.

At Middlebury College, the STARS pilot program, helped the institution build a reputation as a key player in sustainable efforts, says Nan Jenks-Jay, dean of environmental affairs. In turn, Middlebury College was approached by entrepreneurs, businesses and individuals wishing to invest in the school, which supplied the college with funding for a variety of sustainability projects and initiatives.

For more information on STARS:  www.stars.aashe.org