We’re No. 1! Or are we?
Chico State among 90 campuses signed up for sustainability ranking
When it comes to sustainability, many people think Chico State is ahead of the curve. Truly knowing how the Wildcats rate in comparison to other campuses isn’t always so clear.
That is why the university, together with around 90 other higher-ed institutions across the United States and Canada, is embarking on a mission to measure success when it comes to progress toward sustainability.
Developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the program is titled Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, or STARS.
“There really isn’t another system like this,” said Judy Walton, acting executive director of AASHE. “This will be the first sustainability rating system that is truly comprehensive and scores campuses on their achievements.”
The program asks campuses to identify areas where sustainability is taking hold. Campuses will evaluate such things as their curriculum, energy use and recycling efforts.
In addition to ranking schools on their progress, the project offers an invaluable resource for participating campuses: a chance to collaborate on ideas and learn about sustainability projects they can implement at their own schools.
“Even in this pilot phase, there is sharing of information,” Walton said. “All the work that campuses will do in collecting their information will become resources for them as well as other campuses. Ultimately what we will have is a vast resource database.”
This is one of the reasons Chico State decided to jump on board to test out the system.
“This is a great way to learn from other campuses while also serving as a model for sustainability,” said Jillian Buckholz, Chico State’s sustainability coordinator.
Over the next year, Buckholz, along with the AS Sustainability Program, will be participating in the STARS program, essentially filling out a checklist on projects as well as areas where there is little done in terms of sustainability. For every project, Buckholz said, the STARS evaluation requires detailed documentation.
The key to the system is in that documentation, which will then be forwarded to AASHE and filtered to other colleges around North America.
UC Santa Barbara is another California university that is participating in the program and looking forward to the collaboration among schools. UCSB Sustainability Manager Perrin Pellegrin said that when AASHE asked for schools to participate in the program, UCSB jumped at the chance.
Like Chico State, UCSB has made an overall commitment to sustainability—one Pellegrin said is campus-wide. “We have made the effort to look at sustainability as a whole, and integrate it into every aspect of the campus,” Pellegrin said.
Sharing that information with other campuses is what will truly bring success in the sustainability movement, Pellegrin said: “We need to be able to see where we are with other campuses, but in that comparison learn the best practices that are being put into place at other colleges. That way we will be able to achieve a unified commitment to sustainability.”
In addition to sharing project information on her school’s energy saving program, which Pellegrin counts as one of the strengths of UCSB, she said she is looking forward to learning from Chico State, primarily when it comes to its solar arrays and renewable-power use.
Buckholz noted this as a strength of Chico State’s as well, but said she also is looking forward to learning the areas that Chico State needs to improve upon when it comes to sustainability.
It is difficult to know where Chico State should focus more of its energies, Buckholz said, specifically because it doesn’t have a system that catalogs each project on campus. She said that the STARS program will help meet this need, while also rewarding progress.
“This is a great opportunity to identify our areas of strengths and challenging areas when it comes to sustainability on campus,” Buckholz said. “We don’t know where to work harder because we don’t have something that looks campus-wide.”
Meanwhile, as institutions such as Chico State look toward what they can do on campus, Walton hopes that cities, states and the nation will follow to see what they can do a larger scale.
“Campuses are a great place to start this movement because they’re a microcosm of the outside world. They are really little cities of their own. When the community sees what campuses can do, they in turn should follow suit,” Walton said.
And promoting sustainability is really what this program is all about.
“We want people to see the sustainable practices that are happening all over North America and realize that this is a way of life for many campuses,” Walton said. “The education, research and programs that happen on the college level are really those that are going to shape what happens in the rest of society.”