AASHE to test sustainability rating system with WUSTL’s help

Students, faculty and staff throughout the United States are helping make their universities and colleges a little more “green” by instituting academic and campus programs to promote sustainability. While these efforts, ranging from the use of hybrid cars and renewable energy to the reduction of solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions, are impressive, their diversity makes it nearly impossible to objectively compare one university’s progress toward sustainability with that of another.

In an effort to solve that problem, WUSTL will work with the Association of the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2008 to test a pilot program, the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS).

STARS is designed to help colleges and universities gauge their progress toward sustainability in four main areas: governance and finance; social responsibility and community engagement; education and research; and operations.

WUSTL is one of more than 90 private and public universities, colleges and community colleges throughout the United States to participate in the test.

The STARS program is one of several comprehensive sustainability performance reporting tools being developed. But unlike the Global Reporting Initiative, which is widely used as a corporate sustainability reporting tool, STARS is unique because it is the first tool to attempt to holistically measure sustainability efforts on college campuses, said Matt Malten, assistant vice chancellor for campus sustainability.

By providing colleges and universities with such measurements, the STARS program will seek to facilitate communication about sustainability practices and performance and assist in the creation of benchmarks and incentives in higher education.

“We are excited to use STARS to assess our sustainability performance,” Malten said. “In addition to using it as a guide to establish our performance baseline, we also plan to use STARS as a platform to help us engage and facilitate ongoing collaboration for continual sustainability improvement on our campus, with our peer institutions across the country and with our international partners.

“In short, STARS will help us confirm that we are affecting the necessary rapid global sustainability progress,” Malten said.

According to Malten, WUSTL will host campus-wide forums throughout the year to solicit input from the campus and greater community on whether the proposed STARS performance categories and metrics are complete and comprehensive.

“We intend to engage the campus community in a public dialogue on this crucial issue because, ultimately, every one of us has a role to play in making our campus more sustainable,” Malten said. “It is my hope that these dialogues will receive great attendance and enthusiastic participation.”

In addition, an eco-footprint analysis reflecting the current state of campus sustainability — according to the selected STARS metrics — will be used to select and prioritize goals that will become part of the strategic plan for campus sustainability.

After receiving feedback from STARS schools during the pilot phase, the AASHE plans to release a finalized version of STARS in January 2009.

“The launch of the pilot phase is a major milestone in the development of STARS,” said Judy Walton, AASHE’s acting executive director.

“It has taken nearly two years of hard work and the contributions of hundreds of individuals from every sector of the higher education community to bring us to this point,” she said.

For more information on STARS or the AASHE, visit aashe.org. For more information on the University’s sustainability initiatives, visit ees.wustl.edu.