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Shooting for the STARS

May 29

Written by:
5/29/2012 7:48 AM  RssIcon

What is the weakest aspect of sustainability on college and university campuses? How can sustainability be measured and compared at these institutions? The STARS program provides a framework for answering these questions.

Developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) is an online tool for colleges and universities to track sustainability efforts in many different areas. For example, points are awarded for efforts in energy efficiency, curriculum related to sustainability, and the institution’s diversity and affordability.

Colleges and universities can choose to participate with “Reporter” status (unrated), or they can choose to be rated (bronze, silver, gold, or platinum) based on their accumulated points. To date, 185 institutions have been rated. Here is a summary of the average scores in the three major STARS categories, as presented on the STARS website:

Education & Research 51.20%
Operations 36.28%
Planning, Administration & Engagement         57.94%

Looking at these figures, it is interesting that the institutions rated have scored significantly lower in the Operations category than in the other two categories. In fact, while browsing the scores of individual institutions, I noticed that the Operations category is almost always the lowest score, sometimes strikingly lower than the other two categories.


I think this is a case where it is easier to “talk the talk,” than to “walk the walk.” In other words, it is easier for institutions to develop sustainability curriculum, do research on sustainability, and engage the public in discussions on sustainability than it is for them to take a close look at their own campus and critically evaluate their own systems, buildings, and grounds.

With gas and electric prices rising and state funding dwindling for many institutions, some are beginning to look closely at energy efficiency and other aspects of campus operations to determine how they can save money. But too often these efforts are not systematic or strategic.

Though STARS certainly has room for improvement, AASHE deserves kudos for developing this tool. Using the STARS Technical Manual and networking with other STARS institutions can provide a framework for more systematic thinking. As with any tool, success depends on how you use it.

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