The University of Washington has the strongest sustainability performance in the Pac-12 and is among the top 10 of all North American universities and colleges according to a new self-rating system to measure sustainability.
The UW is one of more than 230 institutions submitting data to the two-year-old Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, also known as STARS. When the UW submitted its assessment for the first time this fall, it earned a gold rating. Only platinum, which no institution has yet received, is higher.
The sustainability tracking system is designed to “enable meaningful comparison over time and across institutions using a common set of measurements,” according to the Association for Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education, its developer.
The impetus for the system came from 13 groups representing hundreds of community college and university housing, business, food services, procurement and planning offices. Input also was sought from organizations interested in using the database, such as the Sierra Club, which annually ranks university sustainability for its “cool schools” list, and Princeton Review with its yearly Green Honor Roll.
The UW, having accumulated a little more than 70 percent of all possible points, has the highest score among the nine Pac-12 universities that decided to assess themselves. Behind the UW, with 69 percent, is University of Colorado, Boulder, also earning a gold. Four others also rated gold, two earned silver and one is at the bronze level.
“The Pacific-12 conference is among the most competitive in the NCAA when it comes to sustainability, with most STARS-rated institutions in the conference having earned a STARS gold rating,” the Association for Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education wrote in its fall newsletter.
The UW also was in the top 10 of all North American universities, private and public, that have conducted assessments. Among the top 20, the University of Puget Sound is the only other Washington school to claim a spot.
The UW submitted 275 pages of documentation in answer to 500 questions and sub-questions. Information was gathered by graduate students with the UW’s Environmental Management Certificate Program and UW Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Office‘s Claudia Frere, Aubrey Batchelor and Jennifer Perkins.
About 30 UW officials put their signatures on various parts of the submission, attesting that the information was accurate. That’s one of the ways the association hopes to hold institutions accountable on their self-evaluations, said Frere, manager of the UW’s sustainability office. The president or chancellor of each institution also signs something similar for the overall submission. And all the data are on the web where anyone can check out what different institutions have submitted.
Three main categories of activities are considered. In the operations category, which rates the sustainability of such things as power usage, food services and building operations, the UW outscored every other institution but one, Pittsburgh’s Chatham University. The other categories concern education and research, and planning, administration and engagement.
More than just being a rating system, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System is also meant to be used by institutions to improve their performances in coming years, according to Ruth Johnston, UW associate vice president of finance and facilities, of which the campus sustainability office is part. She was recently elected to the board of the Association for Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education
“The university is committed to maintaining and enhancing our leadership in environmental sustainability,” Johnston said. ”The benefit of using STARS is that it helps us identify what to focus on for improvement, and what our peers are working on and how they are doing it. This is a great tool for identifying opportunities to help us achieve our climate action plan goals.”