The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has awarded the University of Virginia a “Gold” rating for its sustainability efforts – putting it in the top 7 percent of participating schools in the United States and Canada.
U.Va. is a charter member of the association’s “Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System,” a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. U.Va. joined in 2012 and attained a “Silver” rank.
To date, 50 of the 729 participating schools have achieved Gold status, a rank U.Va. will hold for three years before it must re-apply. Only one school has received Platinum status, STARS’ highest ranking.
“This is an important analysis and designation for U.Va. to undertake and achieve,” said Andrea Trimble, director of the Office for Sustainability. “This rating helps the University better understand how it is progressing from year to year relative to other schools, and across many areas of focus.”
Since the University first applied for a STARS rating three years ago, it has established nitrogen reduction goals; become a partner with the Environmental Protection Agency in the Better Buildings Challenge; launched a global studies major in environments and sustainability; inaugurated a bicycle share program; and increased the number of staff members working on sustainability issues.
STARS provides the University a sustainability benchmark by establishing a framework for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education; allowing comparisons over time and across institutions using common measurements; creating incentives for continual improvement; and allowing schools to share information on sustainability. It scores universities on a point system in the categories of academics, engagement, operations and planning and is designed to replace a series of smaller, piecemeal rating systems from a variety of groups.
“This rating is very significant,” said Julia Monteith, senior land use and community planner with the Office of the Architect for the University. “We have improved from silver to gold and this is a 360-degree review of the University’s sustainability efforts. This is important because it shows that the progress we have made is significant, and that sustainability is something that the entire University is invested in.”
The ratings also give the University an idea of the areas in which it is not as strong and needs improvement, she said. The University pulled together a team of 15 subject-matter experts from various disciplines to assess all aspects of U.Va.’s programs that touch on sustainability.
“Advancing sustainability in higher education is, like many other activities, a process of continual improvement,” said University President Teresa A. Sullivan in her letter to the STARS steering committee supporting the University’s nomination. “The STARS framework offers an effective tool to measure and report on progress toward our goals.”
The STARS ranking will help U.Va. determine and set goals in advancing sustainability on Grounds, as well as give access to various tools to help achieve the goals.