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SUNY-ESF Joins Campuses Nationwide to Pilot Sustainability Rating System for Higher Education

STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System)

Syracuse, N.Y, - The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is among more than 90 college and university campuses that will participate in the pilot phase of a rating system for sustainability in higher education.

The self-assessment system, called STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System), launches today (Feb. 4). Participating campuses will test the system this year, then provide feedback to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which developed the system.

"This is another step in our goal to be carbon neutral by 2015," said ESF President Cornelius B. Murphy Jr. "It will help us understand how our photovoltaics, fuel cell, alternative fuel programs, and energy efficiency efforts are moving us to be a more sustainable campus. This effort will help guide us as we plan our next steps."

The participating campuses represent a wide range of institutional types, sizes, and geography. They include public and private schools, community colleges and research universities. Input from the pilot participants will help AASHE finalize the system before it is shared with a broader audience next year.

"This will give us some early feedback on how we're doing in regards to sustainability," said Michael Kelleher, ESF's director of renewable energy systems. "This program will help focus our efforts. We know that our students are very committed to sustainability. We appreciate their voice and efforts to make us a more sustainable campus, and want to continue to expand opportunities to involve them in our sustainability efforts."

STARS is designed to:

  • Help gauge the progress of colleges and universities toward sustainability in all sectors, from governance and operations to academics and community engagement.
  • Enable meaningful comparisons across institutions as well as benchmarking within institutions.
  • Create incentives for continuous improvement toward sustainability.
  • Facilitate information sharing about sustainability practices and performance in higher education.
  • Build a stronger, more diverse campus sustainability community.

"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."

Given the rapid growth of sustainability initiatives at institutions of higher education in North America, measuring and assessing progress toward sustainability goals has become increasingly important. While many institutions have undertaken sustainability assessments and while a variety of assessment tools are available, there is currently no system that translates disparate sustainability indicators into a single metric that enables both institutional benchmarking and easy comparison across a large number of campuses in terms of overall level of achievement.

The system is similar to the LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) green building rating system. STARS, however, is applied to an entire campus rather than a single building or set of buildings and evaluates social responsibility as well as environmental stewardship. Campuses may earn credits in three categories: curriculum and research; operations; and administration and finance. Within each category are subsections of credits, ranging from purchasing and buildings in the operations category to investment and planning in the administration and finance category.