Penn State receives improved STARS sustainability performance rating

On Jan. 25, Penn State received notice of its fourth Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), with an improved gold rating — from a score of 67.88 in 2017, to 74.49 today. This latest rating places Penn State above all other participating Big Ten institutions in sustainability performance for the first time, with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign the next highest with a score of 72.89.

“Penn State’s progress in sustainability is the result of a dedicated effort by people across the University — students, faculty, staff and administrators — and they are to be congratulated for this achievement,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Their collaboration across departments and disciplines is making a very real difference that is contributing to a healthier future for us all. On behalf of Penn State, thank you to everyone for supporting our University goals of sustainability.”

Paul Shrivastava, chief sustainability officer at Penn State and director of the Sustainability Institute (SI), also praised the University’s progress in sustainable development.

AASHE STARS' sustainability gold rating logo
IMAGE: PROVIDED

“In the past three years, Penn State has dramatically improved its efforts to further integrate sustainability within its academics, research, operations and engagement programs, to the point we’ve received the highest score among all other Big Ten institutions,” Shrivastava said. “Though there is always room for improvement, the Penn State community has a lot to be proud of as we continue towards a more sustainable future. I am also grateful to the team led by Mary Easterling, associate director of analysis and assessment at SI, for compiling the information that supported Penn State’s STARS submission.”

This year’s score report highlights several areas where the University saw marked improvement. In sustainability research, Penn State earned a perfect score on the STARS criteria. In academics, Penn State’s curriculum earned a score of 29.30 out of a possible 40, with high marks for the accessibility of living laboratories that use the campus as a place of student research, immersive sustainability experiences and strong undergraduate and graduate programs in sustainability. The new Lightsource bp 70 MW solar farm in Franklin County and the 2 MW solar array next to Mount Nittany Medical Center are two examples of state-of-the-art projects that serve as living labs that have been constructed in the last few years, providing research and educational opportunities for students.

STARS divides its assessment of engagement into campus and public engagement. For campus engagement, Penn State earned high marks for ways that it incorporates sustainability into student life and outreach. On public engagement, Penn State earned credit for its focus on sustainable community partnerships, public policy and intra-campus collaboration.

For example, the Sustainable Communities Collaborative, an SI program that fosters student engaged scholarship in dozens of Penn State courses, has carried out many projects over the past three years that advance sustainability while building relations between the campus and neighboring communities. Examples of SCC projects include students designing a sensory garden for the State College YMCA, helping Bellefonte Borough redesign its compost facility, and helping develop stormwater projects to manage runoff into the Spring Creek Watershed.

Compared to scores from its previous assessment, Penn State also scored notably higher in sustainability planning, learning outcomes, sustainability literacy, and building design and construction.

This recognition of sustainability planning validates the hard work by, among others, the Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources University steering committee, which facilitates efforts by Penn State’s many units to incorporate this key thematic priority from Penn State’s Strategic Plan into their departmental and college-level strategic plans, said Shrivastava.

AASHE is the leading association for the advancement of sustainability in higher education, with over 900 member institutions, primarily in North America.  Its mission is to inspire and catalyze higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.  The STARS rating system was developed by AASHE to provide a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance against their peers.

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