Repeat performance: CSU earns second STARS Platinum

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The STARS 2.1 Platinum rating is the latest in a number of national recognitions and awards for CSU’s sustainability efforts.

Colorado State University, one of the nation’s most sustainable universities, is the first university in the world to have its sustainability efforts go Platinum — twice.

It took a village of students, administrators, faculty and staff for Colorado State University to achieve the highest possible STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for the second time. The newest ratings were announced earlier this month.

“We know that sustainability is an ongoing challenge that encompasses everything from academics and research to operations and planning,” said CSU President Tony Frank. “Once again, the shared commitment of Colorado State University’s community to creating a sustainable, environmentally responsible campus has been affirmed through the STARS rating process. This is the result of the tireless dedication of everyone who shares our institutional commitment to environmental stewardship.”

STARS stands for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, an independent program that measures comprehensive sustainability efforts at more than 800 universities around the world. It is considered the most comprehensive and prestigious sustainability performance measurement program in higher education.

Shining STARS

More than 800 universities and colleges around the world participate and are rated through the STARS system. This is the fourth time CSU has achieved the highest scores of all universities in the STARS rating.

CSU set high scores when it submitted its first report to STARS in 2011 and then again in 2014. In March 2015, CSU received the first-ever STARS platinum rating.

What makes a sustainable university?

STARS looks at a lot more than whether a university offers sustainability-related classes or uses solar power. There are more than 1,000 data points in the STARS report, encompassing academics, sustainability-related research, student engagement, transportation, operations, outreach programs and more.

“Colorado State University has demonstrated continued commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Platinum rating for a second time,” said AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser. “This achievement highlights the continuous improvement that comes as a result of participating in STARS to achieve campus sustainability goals.”

CSU’s strong commitment to sustainability in academics and research is a highlight in the report. The university offers more than 800 credit courses and 391 non-credit continuing education courses that include sustainability, both across the state of Colorado and online. Nearly all departments offer sustainability courses, too.

CSU earned the maximum points allowable for research, with nearly 80 percent of the academic departments on campus engaged in sustainability research. Programs such as the School of Global Environmental Sustainability’s Global Challenges Research Teams and Resident Fellows contribute to the high research score as well.

Rams Against Hunger and CSU’s Horticulture Center were singled out as innovative programs in the report. Rams Against Hunger was recognized for providing a mobile food pantry for students and staff experiencing food insecurity.

Campus engagement was an additional area where CSU earned a near perfect score, with initiatives including the Student Sustainability Center, student Eco Leaders, and ASCSU Environmental Affairs among some of the highlighted programs. More than 92 percent of CSU students are engaged in community service.

CSU received credit for a broad spectrum of operations initiatives, including the alternative transportation options available to faculty, staff and students, including the Transfort and MAX bus systems and Around the Horn on-campus shuttle service that are all available to ride for free with a RamCard ID. More than 60 percent of CSU students use alternative transportation.

The university’s Energy Reserve Fund, which pays for energy efficient upgrades in buildings, was also a highlight in the report.

Lynn Johnson, vice president for university operations, said she was proud of the repeat performance as a Platinum-rated school.

“It’s another point of reference and documentation about CSU’s commitment to sustainability,” she said. “The platinum rating was an even harder goal to meet this year, and we did it. We’ve truly infused sustainability across the entire campus.”

Johnson said the concept of sustainability has also expanded to include things like a living wage, and is reflected in CSU’s report.

How ratings are determined

STARS reporting is divided into four categories: academics and research, operations, engagement, and planning and administration.

Schools are awarded a rating – Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum – based on the score received. For a Platinum submittal, AASHE personnel conduct a comprehensive review of all credits before the institution’s report has been accepted to ensure that content is consistent with STARS credit criteria and meets the intent of the STARS credit process.

CSU is the first university to receive a Platinum rating from STARS. Most of the universities and colleges that have completed the comprehensive questionnaire have earned a Silver or Gold rating.

Carol Dollard, an energy engineer and co-chair of CSU’s President’s Sustainability Committee, said the STARS process gives the university an opportunity to reflect on how much has been accomplished over the years in the sustainability realm.

“The STARS rating highlights a spectrum of work that’s been going on for a very long time at CSU,” she said. “It’s one more milestone and we’ve had a lot of success. The journey is long and there’s lots of work yet to happen, but it’s great to stop and celebrate the great work we’ve accomplished.”

Dollard said the next big focus for her and her team will be meeting renewable electricity goals, and increasing waste diversion and alternative vehicles in the university’s transportation fleet.

“STARS is a great assessment tool to celebrate our successes and help us identify where we can continue to make progress,” said Tonie Miyamoto, co-chair for the President’s Sustainability Committee and director of communications and sustainability for Housing & Dining Services. “More than 100 people across campus contributed to this report, including students, faculty from all eight colleges, and a number of staff. This collective effort at all levels is what makes CSU a leader in sustainability.”