Penn State is dedicated to tracking its progress in sustainability to improve the University and its green initiatives. It may be difficult for Penn State to proceed forward with tangible, sustainable improvements unless we measure our current successes and failures.
The University has already participated in several progress reviews, such as the Sierra Club's "Coolest Schools" and the Princeton Review Green Rating (see descriptions below), which have tracked our sustainable progress in recent years. However, we are constantly looking for thorough resources to assess our efforts.
In January 2010, AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) completed a three-year development project: STARS. This program is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to track their progress toward sustainability.
Penn State has been a leading participant in STARS this past year. Through the collection of data, we have identified opportunities to advance our sustainability programs on campus. In addition, this inventory was used by the committee that created Penn State's Sustainability Strategic Plan.
AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education)
AASHE is an association of colleges and universities that are working to create a sustainable future. Its mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. One of the ways in which AASHE keeps track of sustainability in higher education is through summary reports.
STARS: Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System
STARS was created using sustainability reports from industry, higher education and government. It has been tested by 70 institutions whose feedback was incorporated into the current version: STARS 1.0 launched on January 19, 2010, after three years of development. It is the first version of STARS in which participants can earn a rating.
STARS is designed to:
- Provide a framework for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education.
- Enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions using a common set of measurements developed with broad participation from the campus sustainability community.
- Create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability.
- Facilitate information sharing about higher education sustainability practices and performance.
- Build a stronger, more diverse campus sustainability community.
Why is Penn State Using STARS?
- STARS will provide Penn State with a key missing link in our efforts: comprehensive sustainability performance data
- The ability to measure progress and make better informed resource allocation decisions
- The ability to benchmark with other similar institutions
- The opportunity to be a leader as a Charter Participant while utilizing a well-tested product
Categories in STARS
- Education & Research: co-curricular education, curriculum, research
- Operations: buildings, climate, dining services, energy, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste, water
- Planning, Administration & Engagement: coordination & planning, diversity & affordability, human resources, investment, public engagement
Sierra Club's "Coolest Schools"
The Sierra Club compiles information for its annual “Coolest Schools” magazine issue, which rates American colleges and universities according to their environmental practices, green initiatives, and level of sustainability-oriented education.
Schools are judged in the following categories:
- Energy Supply: What is the break down of energy types and consumption?
- Efficiency: What is the efficiency of building and land operations and development?
- Food: What type of food is made/consumed on campus and where does it come from?
- Academics: Are there classes, curriculum or research institutions for sustainability?
- Purchasing: What sustainable purchasing practices (paper, electronics, etc.) are in use?
- Transportation: How many vehicles are in operation and what are the public transportation options available?
- Waste Management: What are the waste-diversion rates (recycling, composting, etc.)?
- Administration: Is environmental sustainability part of the university’s mission; are there sustainability offices?
- Financial Investments: Do you undertake environmentally responsible investments?
- Other initiatives: Do you create natural habitats, clean-air buildings, etc.?
Princeton Review contains a Green Rating in its annual guide. The Review assembled a panel of experts in higher education and sustainable practices to produce a survey for school administrators. The panel then selected questions and weighted them for the rating. Almost all four-year colleges and universities are invited to participate in the survey. Princeton Review then produces a rating for each participating college based on their responses.
Their rating is based on a scale of 60 to 99. It provides a comprehensive measure of a school’s performance as an environmentally aware and prepared institution. The rating includes:
- whether students have a campus quality of life that is healthy and sustainable
- how well a school is preparing students for employment in the clean energy economy
- how environmentally responsible a school’s policies are