The University was recently awarded a silver rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a program that evaluates universities’ sustainability efforts and operates through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. There are five possible ratings: reporter (a school that has reported its data but does not earn enough points for a bronze rating), bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Currently no schools have a platinum rating, and silver is the most common ranking.
“It evaluates not only environmental criteria but also social and financial criteria and looks at sustainability very broadly in terms of what a college does,” said Sustainability Coordinator Jennifer Kleindienst.
The STARS categories are co-curricular education, curriculum, research, building operations, climate, dining services, energy, grounds operations, purchasing, transportation, waste, water usage, coordination and planning, diversity and affordability, human resources, investment, public engagement, innovation, and supplemental data.
The silver rating means that the University received a score of approximately 50 percent in each category. A score of 25 is required for a bronze rating, a score of 45 for a silver rating, a score of 65 for a gold rating, and a score of 85 for a platinum rating. The University scored 51.64.
“It means that we’re doing relatively well, but there’s still work to be done,” Kleindienst said. “The rating is nice on paper, just to say, ‘Oh look, we’re a silver school,’ but to me it’s more important to look at the different credit categories to know what we’re doing well and where there’s room for improvement.”
The rating does show that the University is making positive progress toward sustainability, as Sustainability Intern Isabel Stern ’14 noted.
“I think it’s good that we got silver, and it shows that we’re making strides in this area, but I think it’s also important to know that we are not where we should be,” Stern said. “We are not carbon neutral by any means. I think it’s good that no school has achieved [platinum] yet, because it should be something that’s such a high standard.”
Sustainability Intern Ari Lewenstein ’16 agreed that it is important to keep working toward a high standard.
“It’s really good that we have a silver rating, and we’re really proud of that,” Lewenstein said. “It also means that there’s work to be done, too, so just because we have a silver rating doesn’t mean that we can sit back and rest on our laurels. We should always be doing more to reduce our usage and increase our sustainability.”
According to Kleindienst, there is progress to be made across the board.
“There are a lot of credits like that where we’re working toward a goal but we still have a ways to go, and just because it’s STARS’ goal doesn’t mean it’s Wesleyan’s goal, so we kind of have to find a happy medium there,” she said.
One of the Sustainability Office’s primary goals moving forward is to revise the Climate Action Plan. The original plan, written in 2010, outlines a path toward carbon neutrality. The new plan will be a sustainability action plan, rather than being strictly limited to carbon neutrality.
“It’ll have many of the same elements,” Kleindienst said. “A large focus of it will be on reducing our carbon footprint, but we’ll also be looking more broadly at things that are sustainable but might not directly impact Wesleyan’s carbon footprint. The original plan looks primarily at operations—energy, waste, water—and focuses a small amount on academics, but really nothing with social sustainability.”
The STARS rating allows Kleindienst to identify which issues should be prioritized on campus.
“STARS was really helpful to get a sense of where we are in terms of sustainability,” she said. “Now we can use this information to incorporate into our next plan and figure out what of these things is feasible and how to make it work.”
The Sustainability Office is also hoping to make greater strides in education. STARS looks at whether a university has a student sustainability educators program; in fact, Kleindienst and Sustainability Intern Rebecca Sokol ’15 have been developing an Eco Facilitators program this year and hope to launch it next fall.
“I think we need to be doing more in terms of education,” Kleindienst said. “We’re doing a lot, but a lot of students graduate Wesleyan without any real knowledge of what sustainability is and why it’s important. We’re hoping that [the Eco Facilitators] program will reach people that might not choose to take a sustainability-related class, because it’s going to be directed at the general population.”
Stern similarly noted the importance of education.
“We are doing a lot of other things that haven’t necessarily been implemented yet but are in the making, like a map of campus to see where exactly is using the most energy in real time,” she said.
Many of the University’s positive credits on the STARS rating come from student-led initiatives.
“I already knew that there were a lot of student groups doing a lot of things, but this really put it into perspective, that without students we wouldn’t have a silver rating,” Kleindienst said. “There’s so much enthusiasm and so much hard work that students do to make Wesleyan more sustainable.”
The STARS rating lasts for three years, though the University has the option of renewing it earlier.
“I don’t think we will, just because I don’t really think we’d learn much from that,” Kleindienst said. “I would like to redo it again in three years. I think it’s definitely possible that we could go for gold next time.”
Lewenstein similarly noted that the silver rating is encouraging and validating, but that total financial, social, and environmental sustainability is the ultimate goal.
“We’re always going to be striving for the gold rating or platinum rating,” he said. “We’re hoping to be a leader in sustainable education.”