Green STARS
Rating system to encourage college sustainability goals

The college has signed on for charter membership in a tracking and rating system designed to help higher education institutions measure and reach climate impact, energy use and scores of other sustainability goals.

STARS (Sustainability and Tracking Assessment Rating System) aims to provide a transparent, self-reporting framework for comparison among member colleges and universities on a wide array of sustainability benchmarks.

“We saw the benefits of STARS right away,” said John Moore, director of engineering and sustainability. “One of the first is to open our eyes to all the various areas in and around our campus where ideas of sustainability can be applied.”

The system awards ratings credits for initiatives like meeting LEED Gold construction standards, as the college has set out to do with the Village townhouses and the under-construction Sciences and Engineering Innovation Corridor. Highly visible projects like the new wind turbine atop Lee Hall may gain recognition in the special category of innovations.

More than the environment

But besides operations, other categories include education and research, and planning, administration and engagement:

* How does the college incorporate ideas of sustainability—living and doing business in ways that do not diminish resources or expectations for future generations—into its courses?

* Do the college and its foundation invest in environmentally responsible companies?

* Do its human resources policies recognize innovation and savings among its employees?

* Does the college buy goods that meet sustainability guidelines, from materials for construction and renovation to the napkins in the dining halls?

Moore said he and Thaddeus Mantaro, assistant director of the Office of Business and Community Relations, have begun a required, meticulous assessment across campus to receive an initial STARS rating. It must be completed by Jan. 31. Plans are under way to include other groups and stakeholders in the assessment process, including the Campus Environmental Advisory Council.

Only one charter institution, Pacific Lutheran University, has completed the work to obtain a rating in the system’s inaugural year. Institutions on the STARS list span the nation, from Michigan State University to the University of Texas at Austin, from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to UCLA. Brockport, Fredonia, Geneseo and Environmental Science and Forestry are among other SUNY system charter members.

Comparisons with others

The new rating system’s weighted formula will allow for comparisons across the spectrum of higher education institutions, Moore said, from small to large, public and private. Moreover, its transparent reporting will enable any member college to learn from any other.

“It’s not focused on negatives at all,” Moore said. “Its focus is all on positive steps and improvements.”

College President Deborah F. Stanley signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007. Together with the college’s 2009 Climate Action Plan (online pdf, 552 KB), it establishes rigorous green-initiative benchmarks and milestones in terms of fossil fuel consumption and carbon footprint. For example, under those guidelines, the campus must reduce emissions 40 percent by 2020 and reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

“These executive orders are driving us toward energy savings and sustainability in campus operations and construction,” Moore said. “STARS is a way of helping us track our progress toward those goals.”

But it’s more than improving green living standards on campus, he said.

“It’s also about leadership in the world at large and the community around us,” Moore said. “It’s a much broader scope. It’s not just about going carbon neutral, but helping the world go carbon neutral.”

STARS is a program of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. To learn more about the ratings system, visit http://stars.aashe.org.

(Posted: Sep 24, 2010)