The University of Vermont has received its second Gold rating from STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System for higher education. The university’s score of 70.87 placed it among the top 12 percent of all rated institutions. The Gold rating is valid for three years.
A program of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, STARS is the most widely adopted sustainability rating in higher education. Publications like the Princeton Review and Sierra draw on the data STARS compiles for their own college sustainability rankings.
“UVM is well known for its commitment to sustainability and its policies, practices, and research promoting its sustainability goals,” said Tom Sullivan, UVM president. “It’s deeply rewarding to see corroboration from a respected third party that we are leaders in sustainability among our higher education peers.”
“Great credit is due to the UVM staff, students and faculty whose creativity and hard work over the years made this rating possible and to the team that assembled the huge amount of data the STARS application requires verifying that good work,” said David Rosowsky, the university’s provost. “I’d like to especially thank Associate Provost Brian Reed for his leadership and the staff in the Office of Sustainability for their dedication and hard work of over a year in completing the application.”
The STARS rating is designed to enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions using a common set of 68 sustainability measurements organized into four categories: academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration.
UVM practices stood out in each of the STARS categories.
Since first submitting data in 2014, the university has made great strides in formalizing the integration of sustainability themes and tools into the curriculum, spurred by its adoption, in 2015, of a sustainability general education requirement. UVM now offers 717 sustainability-related courses, with 65 percent of the university’s departments offering at least one course. UVM went beyond STARS’ minimum reporting of the course catalog descriptions and provided a full justification for how each course included sustainability. STARS considers such reporting to be a “best practice.”
UVM received high points in the engagement category for its student sustainability educators program, the UVM Eco-Reps. The 20 UVM Eco-Reps explain to their fellow students how their daily choices, like eating and getting to class, can contribute to larger sustainability-related goals at UVM, such as the commitment to Real Food and to a pedestrian-friendly campus.
Operations credits in STARS cover a wide range of topics, including transportation methods, purchasing, energy use, air pollution, water use, waste generation, land use and biodiversity. UVM’s STARS operations data showed UVM’s successes in implementing its 2010 Climate Action Plan, receiving high scores for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy consumption and buying cleaner energy for heating and electricity. Total greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 37% from 2007 to 2015. UVM currently ranks in the top 25 of the 280 STARS-participating institutions rated for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Planning and administration
STARS rewards formal planning processes with positive effects on social, ecological, and financial systems. UVM’s dedication to formal processes addressing diversity, equity and affordability over the past decade earned the University nine of ten points in this area. The 2015 report by the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence describes a framework and goals for diversity, inclusive excellence, and multicultural competency and sets UVM apart in this area.
Innovation and exemplary practices
STARS also rewards innovation and exemplary practices. UVM earned recognition for exemplary practices in designating sustainability courses; sustainable dining certification; grounds certification; being a Bicycle Friendly University; and being part of the Campus Pride Index. Collecting and making sense of all the STARS data requires hundreds of hours of labor. UVM’s Office of Sustainability earned UVM a STARS Innovation point for creating and sharing a tool to make the STARS data collection and submission process much easier. Up to 150 individuals at institutions of higher education are now using this system for the STARS credits, which includes a “mission control” sheet tracking progress by credit, data contact and section.
Highlights from UVM's STARS Gold ranking
UVM’s emphasis on sustainability in academics resulted in a rank of:
- #5 for highest percentage (18 percent) of courses that are sustainability courses
- #10 for highest percentage (65 percent) of academic departments with sustainability course offerings
A 37 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2007 to 2015 earned UVM a rank of:
- #1 for clean and renewable energy use
- #4 for total GHG emissions reduction and
- #9 for energy use reduction
UVM ranked #3 on its combined scores for:
- Diversity and equity coordination
- Affordability and access
- Assessing diversity and equity
- Support for under-represented groups
Exemplary practices at UVM earned special recognition:
- Designating sustainability courses in the UVM course list
- Receiving certification for sustainable dining
- Certifying sustainable practices in grounds management
- Being designated as a Bicycle Friendly University
- Official listing on the Campus Pride Index