Calling on Campus to Go for Sustainability Gold

AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. STARS Gold LogoAt The University of Texas at Austin, the stars are aligning to actively pursue gold. That is, STARS Gold.

STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System maintained by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education. STARS is the root metric system for Sierra Club Cool Schools and Princeton Review Green Guide assessments of green colleges and universities.

UT Austin’s Office of Sustainability (OS) is planning to submit materials to achieve STARS Gold by the next assessment in 2020, just in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. While OS submits the paperwork, most of the potential advancement in sustainability will come from departments and units across campus.

“We would have a lot to celebrate if our publicly funded, Tier 1 research institution achieved STARS Gold over the next year,” says Darrell Bazzell, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. “But this will take many of us working to make the few changes needed so that we can meet this important external benchmark.”

UT Austin has been participating in the STARS rating system since 2011. Each of the campus’ three previous submissions to the rating system—most recently June 14 2018 STARS Silver rating—have each shown steady, incremental improvements over time. But UT is losing ground when compared to its institution type: large research institutions currently have an average overall score of about 61 while UT Austin’s recent score was 56.

AASHE has given over 100 STARS Gold ratings and four STARS platinum ratings to campuses across the world. By making a focused, concerted effort, UT Austin can join these colleges and universities and achieve gold. There are a number of areas where UT can improve, from obtaining the correct documentation to prove sustainability measures to making new changes and updates on campus. Examples include evaluating course syllabi for their sustainability content, doing a deeper dive on departments with sustainability efforts, updating our greenhouse gas inventory, and formalizing our landscape maintenance plan.

“UT is a research university, and we can model science-driven improvements and transparency through tools like STARS,” says Jim Walker, Director of the Office of Sustainability.  “We can look at all of our peer institutions and see how they are doing in similar areas, and we can make the necessary operational changes to improve the sustainability of our campus.”