Since 2010 the UVM Office of Sustainability has internally piloted the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (referred to as AASHE STARS). This system is similar to LEED for green buildings, with Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels.
UVM registered for STARS in spring 2013, and will submit data publicly in December 2013.
The Office of Sustainability has used STARS as a framework to track progress related to best practices in sustainability in operations and policy since 2010, when the Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution in support of UVM participation in STARS.
What is STARS?
STARS is a voluntary, internal rating framework from AASHE, the premier national organization for promoting sustainability at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. STARS is conceptually similar to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Environment and Energy Design rating system (LEED) for green buildings, with a checklist and defined parameters. STARS differs from other "green" surveys in that it is much more generic and comprehensive, and expands the definition of "sustainability" to include not only environmental considerations, but also economic and social dimensions. More specifically, the STARS categories are: Education and Research; Operations; and Planning, Administration, and Engagement.
During the spring 2010 semester, the UVM Office of Sustainability researched and assembled STARS documentation in collaboration with ENVS 195 (Campus Sustainability - now ENVS 187) and CDAE 295 (Sustainable Development Policy). We worked with students to complete several of the STARS categories and analyze UVM's performance internally as well as in relation to peer institutions, business and sustainable development frameworks, and other international standards. This analysis allowed us at UVM to track our institution's progress, assess its performance over time, and compare with other institutions.
Completing an internal pilot of STARS gave us an estimate of how much effort and collaboration is involved in participating in the program. With our current resources and participation of the ENVS 187 course the Office of Sustainability can continue to track progress using this framework. STARS also can help identify areas for improvement at UVM and compare UVM's progress in subsequent years in order to see if improvement has been made. Our office communicates regularly with other institutions about this topic, including McGill University, Middlebury College, Syracuse University, and Yale.
Pilot Project Details
In spring 2011 both of the classes and the Office of Sustainability undertook specific roles in completing sections of STARS. Those included the following:
- The Office of Sustainability prepared resources for the students to consult as well as created structure for gathering and organizing data and information. The students prepared for interviews by conducting preliminary research on UVM’s website, consulting AASHE resources and other references the Office of Sustainability provided and wrote specific questions to ask interviewees.
- The Office of Sustainability reviewed the students' research summaries and questions and set up interviews with the appropriate contact person.
- The students came prepared to the interviews with background knowledge and a set of questions to conduct the interviews. After additional research, the students then wrote up the credit.
- The senior leaders or departmental contact provided data and information, and verifed that the information is accurate through interviews and email.
After the initial data collection and assessment of the credits that the two classes completed by April 2010, the Office of Sustainability reviewed the prepared documents and discussed the outcome with departmental contacts and senior leaders. The next step is to focus on the Education section.
Doing a trial run of STARS was an important part of evaluating how well the program meets the needs for UVM and for setting up the reporting infrastructure. Stay tuned on our progress and check back for additional information as we complete sections of STARS credits.
The following figure illustrates, based on preliminary calculations, the score that UVM may get in each of the 3 sections of STARS: Operations (OP); Planning, Administration, & Engagement (PAE); and Education & Research (ER).
The Office of Sustainability is currently working on the ER section of STARS.