WMU begins STARS sustainability initiative with 'gold' rating

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Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System logo.

WMU announced its involvement in the program in November.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University has launched its involvement in a national higher education sustainability program by achieving gold-level status as the result of its first annual data report.

Reporting to the WMU Board of Trustees at its July 23 meeting, Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness Jody Brylinsky outlined the University's submission to the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System—known as STARS—administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The University announced in November it would join more than 600 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada that have registered for the program that offers its own sustainability assessment and rating system. Of those, 312 schools are rated and only 65 are currently rated gold. WMU becomes No. 66—among just more than 20 percent assessed at the gold level.

About the STARS program

The STARS program involves reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university's sustainability performance in a broad range of areas. It expands and transforms the way campuses collect data to document sustainability achievements and allows colleges to report and compare consistent pieces of information. The STARS initiative offers its own assessment of member institutions, with the rating covering five levels of achievement. Information included in the assessment includes data on:

  • Academics.
  • Engagement on campus and in the community.
  • Operations.
  • Planning and administration.
  • Innovation.

According to Brylinsky, the University's initial assessment of data in those areas was submitted this month and led to the gold status. After this, WMU will register and submit data on a yearly basis.

Reflecting WMU's commitment to sustainability

Brylinsky notes that the STARS system is not often used by very large universities, but it is particularly well suited to WMU because is takes the same broad definition of sustainability that has become the hallmark of the University's commitment. The data gathered will not solely focus on environmental issues, but will cover such items as access, social sustainability and research.

"Too often, we think of sustainability only from the perspective of saving energy or conserving other physical resources," says Brylinsky. "We have outstanding accomplishments in those areas, but the STARS assessment model looks at a much broader range of achievement. It looks at our campus culture, the elements of our mission and how sustainability plays into every aspect of University life."

Points are accrued in each of dozens of assessed areas, Brylinsky notes. Among WMU's strongest areas for point accumulation were innovation, diversity and accessibility, research, community partnerships, continuing education, rainwater management and coordinated planning and governance.

In the area of community service and community stakeholder engagement, for instance, the WMU data reflects the total number of student community service hours during a one-year period as 1,148,930, with some 85 percent of the University's more than 24,000 students engaging in some form of community service.

And in the research arena, 712 faculty and staff members from 57 departments at WMU were counted in the STARS assessment as engaged in research, while 139 individuals from 32 departments were specifically engaged in sustainability research.

"The STARS assessment is a good snapshot of how specific sustainability initiatives intersect and blend with our overall campus initiatives," Brylinsky says. "The blend is often seamless and reflective of the strategic planning path we've chosen as a University."

About the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

AASHE, the organization that manages the STARS network, is an association of colleges and universities that are working to create a sustainable future. AASHE's mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. It provides resources, professional development and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research.

For more information about AASHE and its STARS program, visit aashe.org.