Sewanee is Reaching for the STARS

Mon, 29 Oct 2018 13:02:00 CDT  — by: Nick Cookson

Every three years Sewanee puts together an intense effort to participate in an external reporting initiative through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). ‌AASHE empowers higher education faculty, administrators, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of innovation, and represents the largest organization leading sustainability efforts in higher education.  The reporting initiative is managed through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) reporting tool and evaluates over 900 colleges and universities across the globe in areas such as Academics, Campus and Community Engagement, Operations (buildings, food & Dining, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste, water), and Planning & Administration (diversity & affordability, investment & finance, wellbeing & work).

STARS helps direct an institution’s commitment to environmental responsibility, social justice and financial transparency.  Additionally, STARS provides updated best practices and resources annually and this is reflected in the reporting tool. This means that an institution cannot report the same thing it has always done and score the same as it did previously.  The idea here is to institutionalize continual improvement and adaptive systems. Besides receiving a score and a designation (Reporter, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum), the report derived from this exercise informs the Princeton Review and Sierra Club's Cool School Rankings—two platforms used by prospective students and their parents to inform their college decision.

This year, Komal Kunwar (C ‘19) is working with over 25 stakeholders in 16 departments and offices to complete Sewanee’s 3rd STARS report. To give you a better idea of how extensive this is, she is consulting a technical manual with over 320 pages!  While you may be thinking, “This is a neat effort by the OESS”, it is really a measurement of the entire University’s level of responsibility and commitment to sustainable principles.  It goes well beyond carbon commitments, water reductions and recycling programs. It will look into our academic offerings and how we incentivize research, how our employees feel about their work, how we reach a more diverse student body, how we invest our endowment, how we impact our community and those surrounding us and much, much more!  In short, the STARS report is about US and how We are using our resources to make the world a better place via action and not just words.

Stay tuned in the Spring of ‘19 to find out how Sewanee compares to our peer and aspirant institutions!

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