Penn State is dedicated to tracking its progress in sustainability to improve its performance, and measure progress toward its sustainability goals.

The University regularly participates in several sustainability assessments, including the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Princeton Review’s Green Schools Rating, and the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools. More recently, Penn State has participated in the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking. Each of these is described briefly below. We also track additional metrics that are representative of Penn State’s unique sustainability goals.


The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS®) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. It covers a broad array of assessment areas, including Curriculum, Research, Public and Campus Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration. In 2011, its first year of participation, Penn State received a silver rating from STARS; in 2014, its rating rose to Gold, and in 2017 and 2020, it scored higher each time within the Gold category.

The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges

The Princeton Review publishes an annual Guide to Green Colleges, based on a subset of the data submitted through STARS and weighted according to a different scheme. Penn State has appeared as one of the roughly 400 schools listed in the Guide each year. More information about the Guide, including Penn State’ current listing, can be found at the link below.

Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools”

The Sierra Club compiles information for its annual “Cool Schools” magazine issue, which rates American colleges and universities according to their environmental practices, green initiatives, and level of sustainability-oriented education. Like the Princeton Review’s rating system “Cool Schools” is based on a subset of STARS metrics, weighted according to Sierra Clubs own scheme. In 2021, Penn State was ranked 39th of 328 participating schools.

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

In 2020, Penn State participated for the first time in the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking, then in its second year of development. In contrast to the three previous assessments listed – which are primarily or exclusively used by U.S. universities – this assessment is truly a global one, with (as of 2023) 1,591 universities from more than 106 nations participating. The assessment is structured around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and uses indicators to provide comparisons across three broad areas: research, outreach, and stewardship. The 2021 ranking showed Penn State in 32nd place overall, and 4th among U.S. universities. The 2022 ranking included more universities from across the globe. Penn State earned a higher score, 92.7, and placed it in 47th place overall and 3rd among U.S. universities. The 2023 ranking includes still more universities participating and yet Penn State jumped to 40th place overall and remained 3rd among U.S. universities.

See our progress addressing the SDGs on the SDG Progress page.


In 2017, Penn State received one of the top facilities honors in the country—The 2017 APPA Effective & Innovative Practices Award. APPA is the professional association of educational facilities in the United States, Canada and abroad.