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Sustainability Tracking & Assessment

The STARS [Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System] developed by AASHE uses a detailed checklist to rate campuses in each of the following areas [based on STARS 2.0]:

Education & Research

Curriculum: It is important for institutions to have education programs and/or courses that address sustainability.  Higher education institutions are positioned to prepare students to become future leaders, scholars, workers, and professionals, so by offering courses in sustainability, they are training their students to lead society to a sustainable future.

Research: By conducting research related to sustainability, higher education institutions can stimulate the development of new technologies, strategies, and approaches to address sustainability issues.

Student Engagement: Actively engaging students in sustainability-related projects is critical. For extracurricular activities and effective outreach to the campus community, see the section on community engagement.


Air and Atmosphere: Another facet of campus sustainability involves measuring and reducing greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions.  This will reduce the impacts of global warming while positively impacting the health of the campus community as well as the health of the local community and region.

Buildings: Buildings are generally the largest user of energy, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on campuses, and they use a great amount of water.  Institutions can reduce the negative impacts of buildings on the environment by designing, building, and maintaining buildings in ways that provide a healthy indoor environment while at the same time mitigating the impact on the outdoor environment.

Energy: For most institutions, energy consumption is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.  Campuses can reduce their energy consumption through conservation and efficiency, and by switching to cleaner and renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, and low-impact hydropower.  Not only will conservation measures help the environment, but these actions also save money and help to shape a market by demanding cleaner, renewable sources of energy.

Food: Negative environmental impacts of food production include contamination of water and soil by pesticides and fertilizers, harsh working conditions for farm workers, and greenhouse gas emissions from transporting food long distances.  Institutions can change this by finding out where their food comes from, how it is produced, and how far it traveled.  They should support local economies, encourage safe, environmentally-friendly farming methods, and work towards eliminating unsafe working conditions and alleviating poverty for farmers.

Grounds: In maintaining their grounds, campuses should minimize the use of toxic chemicals, protect wildlife habitat, and conserve resources.

Purchasing: Institutions should use their purchasing power to help build a sustainable economy by choosing environmentally and socially preferable products and services, and by supporting companies with strong commitments to sustainability.

Transportation: Campuses will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants by moving toward sustainable transportation systems, but they will also benefit from it.  Bicycling and walking are good for human health and lessen the need for large areas of paved surface, which can help campuses  better manage storm water.  This will also save money for institutions by reducing their dependency on petroleum-based fuels.

Waste: Institutions can start the move toward zero waste by reducing, reusing, recycling and composting.  This will reduce the need to extract new materials from the earth, save energy and water by using recycled materials, and reduce the flow of waste to incinerators and landfills which produce greenhouse gases.  This will also save institutions a good amount of money from landfill and hauling service fees.

Water: College campuses that wish to be more sustainable should be conserving water, making efforts to protect water quality, and treating water as a resource rather than a waste product.  Pumping, delivering, and treating water requires great amounts of energy, so by doing this institutions will be reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.  Managing rainwater and wastewater also reduces the need for wastewater discharge into local water supplies, improving the health of local water systems.

Community Engagement

Campus Engagement: Active outreach to engage students, faculty, and staff—to make sustainability a part of the campus culture—is critical to campus sustainability efforts.
Public Engagement: Engaging with community members and organizations in the governmental, non-profit, and for-profit sectors is a way for institutions to help solve sustainability challenges.

Planning & Administration

Coordination and Planning: College campuses should dedicate resources to sustainability coordination, incorporate sustainability into their primary campus plans, and develop plans to move toward sustainability.  Good planning is key to clarifying the vision of a sustainable future and achieving sustainability goals.

Diversity and Affordability: In order to build a sustainable society, diverse groups need to be able to come together and work collaboratively to address sustainability challenges.  Environmental problems tend to disproportionately affect impoverished and disenfranchised communities, so in order to achieve environmental justice, society must work to address discrimination and promote equality.  This entails creating more affordable educational programs accessible to all people.

Human Resources: Sustainability in human resources involves strengthening its community by making fair and responsible investments in its human capital, including offering benefits, wages, and other assistance.  This also involves equipping staff and faculty with the tools, knowledge, and motivation to adopt behavior changes that promote sustainability.

Investment: By making sustainable investment choices, institutions can encourage better corporate behavior, support innovation in sustainable products and services, support sustainability in their community, and help build a more just and sustainable financial system. In addition to appropriate endowment investments, it’s also important to provide resources for campus projects, such as can be done with a ‘Green Revolving Fund‘.

For additional information and resources on STARS, go to the STARS website.


This entry was posted in Climate & Energy, Transportation.

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