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Business Officer Magazine
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STARS Turns Five

The sustainability assessment tool now allows institutions to share data with other campus reporting organizations.

By Karla Hignite

The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) isn't the only sustainability initiative to make big strides during the past five years. In 2006, the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium called on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to develop a campus sustainability assessment tool. The first beta version of AASHE's Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) launched in 2007. The latest version, STARS 1.2, debuted in February 2012, and for the first time it allows institutions to share data with other campus-reporting organizations. (Read also "Bending the Carbon Curve" in the June 2012 issue of Business Officer magazine.)

Data collaboration. Since March 2011, AASHE has worked in collaboration with Sustainable Endowments Institute, the Princeton Review, and Sierra magazine to streamline the data-collection process for the higher education community. The result is the Campus Sustainability Data Collector, a basic Web-based survey tool that eliminates the need for completing multiple surveys. The data collector tool, available to any institution, is hosted by AASHE and is based on the STARS reporting tool. Although the data collector does not convey the same benefits available to STARS participants, such as reports or public recognition, institutions are able to share their data at no cost with these other organizations. STARS participants follow the same process as normal for providing data but can then select which organizations they want to share their information with.

Quarterly review. In April 2012, AASHE launched STARS Quarterly Review, an analysis of STARS data to help uncover campus sustainability trends, showcase best practices, and provide interesting facts. For instance:

  • As of March 1, 2012, 177 institutions had earned a STARS rating, up significantly from 37 rated institutions as of April 2011.
  • Fifty percent of rated institutions earned a STARS silver rating from among the rating categories of reporter, bronze, silver, gold, or platinum.
  • Of the 282 institutions participating in STARS, 158 have signed the ACUPCC.

About AASHE and STARS

AASHE has more than 1,000 campus members representing the full spectrum of higher education-from community colleges to research universities, and from institutions at the beginning stages of their sustainability efforts to long-time campus sustainability leaders. From the start, AASHE solicited broad participation from the higher education community in its development of STARS, and for each version along the way the tool has been shared with and vetted by the higher education community.

STARS provides colleges and universities with a voluntary standardized assessment tool for measuring their sustainability performance. The reporting tool includes 139 environmental, economic, and social indicators across four categories related to campus activities: education and research; operations; planning, administration, and engagement; and innovation. The requirements for evaluating and scoring an institution's performance are transparent and made publicly available, and institutions are allowed to participate in STARS without publishing their scores. Institutions are rated, not ranked, to promote a spirit of collaboration rather than competition.

STARS is available to any higher education institution in the United States and Canada. In addition, AASHE has launched a STARS International Pilot, for which nine institutions from eight countries have so far registered. This pilot will help determine the role STARS can play in countries beyond the United States and Canada.

KARLA HIGNITE, Universal City, Texas, is a contributing editor for Business Officer.