The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is a nonprofit that created the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) as a sustainability self-reporting framework for universities and colleges. This framework differs from other reporting frameworks such as the GRI because it is tailored specifically for institutions of higher education and includes categories such as course curriculum and research. There are more than 1000 data points for colleges to report on within the framework.
For example, in STARS v2.0 the category of academics has a subcategory of curriculum which has eight credits: Academia courses, learning outcomes, undergraduate program, graduate program, immersive experience, sustainability literacy assessment, incentives for developing courses, and campus as a living laboratory. Each of these individual credits have specific criteria for scoring points.
To get started in STARS, a college can use the basic access option to track progress and report data for free. Once the institution is comfortable with the interface and their ability to collect salient sustainability data, they may pursue recognition from AASHE via the paid full access option. AASHE offers five levels of recognition: reporter, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.
The AASHE website offers a comprehensive database of filed STARS reports to increase public disclosure and raise awareness of the sustainability efforts implemented by member universities. Of these reports, Colorado State University is the only member to have reached platinum status with a score of 85.29. I reached out to Colorado State University regarding their successful pursuit of platinum status and received the following statement:
“CSU has participated in STARS since the pilot and over the years we have found it to be a very valuable tool, both in helping us track and celebrate areas we are in strong in as well as identifying areas for improvement on our campus. I particularly appreciate that STARS includes diversity/inclusion as well as living wage and access as part of the assessment to help our campus identify the intersectionalities between climate, racial, and economic justice”
In order to reach Platinum status, CSU has demonstrated a strong dedication to sustainability throughout their campus. Several highlights of their most recent report include:
Curriculum: 962 of CSU’s 2,633 courses incorporate sustainability content
Research: 90% of CSU’s academic departments are engaged in sustainability-related research
Public Engagement: CSU partners with the City of Fort Collins, local organizations like Drive Electric Northern Colorado, and other institutions across the nation to collaborate on climate goals, research initiatives, and engagement programs
Waste: CSU’s composting and waste-to-energy program diverts 93% of the waste from our dining centers
Diversity & Affordability: CSU’s Commitment to Colorado assists low-income Colorado residents with grant funding for at least half of tuition expenses
Wellbeing & Work: CSU’s Employee Assistance Program and Commitment to Campus provide comprehensive resources for staff
STARS criteria is regularly updated to reflect the ever-changing world of sustainability. The most recent set of standards was released in May 2016 with STARS 2.1. According to the AASHE website, the current steering committee responsible for directing these changes includes:
- Chair: Nurit Katz - Chief Sustainability Officer, University of California, Los Angeles (2015-2017; 2nd term)
- Dennis Carlberg - Sustainability Director, Boston University (2014-2016)
- Julian Dautremont-Smith - AASHE Director of Programs (ex-officio)
- Carol Dollard - Energy Engineer, Colorado State University (2016-2018)
- Aaron Durnbaugh - Director of Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago (2016-2018)
- Elaine Durr - Director of Sustainability, Elon University (2015-2017)
- Michael Gulich - Director of University Sustainability, Purdue University (2015-2017)
- Anna Pautler - Sustainability Data Assessment & Reporting Officer, Sheridan College (2015-2017)
- Chris Pelton - STARS Program Manager (ex-officio)
- Rashmi Sahai - Assessments Program Manager, Office of Sustainability, Stanford University (2016-2018)
- Andrea Trimble - Sustainability Director, University of Virginia (2016-2018)
In addition to the steering committee, STARS draws on technical expertise for designing specific credits. The complete list of technical advisors is also disclosed on the AASHE website.
Participation in AASHE STARS remains strong with a growing number of universities participating. Check out the full dashboard for more information on trends in participation of AASHE STARS.