How do you quantify sustainability? And what does it look like at a college?
Over the last 5-10 years, colleges and universities everywhere have jumped into the sustainability horse race. It’s a competitive atmosphere, which has created great innovation – from colleges seeking local energy solutions to hosting zero-waste athletic events. But not surprisingly, this atmosphere has also fueled the news media’s love affair with college rankings. Many, including U.S. News, Princeton Review, and Sierra have now added “green” rankings to their list. Unfortunately, since “sustainability” can mean many things, there has not been an effective means of measuring sustainability progress and holding colleges accountable for their claims.
A new system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) aims to change all that. The program, dubbed “STARS” (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System), gives schools a way to objectively measure their achievements over time and in comparison to their peers.
Middlebury Director of Sustainability Integration Jack Byrne played a role in creating this system. Over the past four years, he has worked with colleagues from across the country to express the need for a way to track sustainability achievements and allow for fair comparisons between institutions and over time. In response, AASHE worked with these representatives to develop STARS.
According to its creators, STARS is a “transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to gauge relative progress toward sustainability.” Each school is responsible for their own report, with no third party verification. However, all reports—along with supporting documentation and contact information—are available online, so peer institutions can hold each other accountable. The system consists of 139 credits split among three main categories: education and research; operations; and planning, administration and engagement. Additionally, institutions can apply for up to four innovation credits for projects, programs, or policies that go above and beyond what is covered in the main credits. For more information about STARS, click here.
Middlebury scored 73.10% for education and research, 50.31% for operations, and 65.36% for planning, administration, and engagement, for an averaged score of 62.92. Middlebury’s score shows that we have room to improve our sustainability efforts on campus, but we are well ahead of the sustainability curve, as the average score of the 48 schools who have reported to date is 49.57%. We also earned four innovation credits for our feasibility study of willows for use in the biomass gasification plant, greening athletics initiatives, the Solar Decathlon, and our work with the Town of Middlebury to determine if mini biomass heating districts in the Town are feasible and ecological. View Middlebury’s complete STARS report here. If you have questions about the report, please contact Clare Crosby or Jack Byrne.