STARS Process at CU
Along with many other leading sustainability campuses across the nation, the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) in 2010 started using a new measurement tool - the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) – developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), to assess sustainability performance in three main areas: Education & Research, Operations, and Planning, Administration, & Engagement.
As STARS provides for a comprehensive assessment of sustainability at the university level, it was necessary to reach out to many groups and institutions across campus to develop the CU credit portfolio. In May 2010, Vice Chancellor Bruno sent a letter to respective departments to solicit support for STARs implementation as a valued activity for CU. A workshop was then held to discuss STARs implementation and to demonstrate of the Reporting Tool. Over 30 Responsible Parties were identified to team lead data gathering on each credit. The central STARS team included CU staffers Dave Newport, Moe Tabrizi, Professor Jim White, and Kristin Epley--and the very dedicated student staffers Natasha Goss and Linda Giudice. Many additional campus personnel participated in assembling those data. Throughout the summer follow up meetings were held across campus to assure that key contributors were making progress with the credits assigned. In doing so, lasting channels of communication and cooperation were formed.
The Education and Research portions of the submission are largely based on surveys and analyses conducted by the CU Environmental Center and affiliated staff. Since a ‘Definition for Sustainability in the Curriculum’was required to assess courses and research a group of graduate/students collaborated on a definition that would later be adapted and approved by a three person committee. Some faculty members submitted sustainability courses/research via a specially designed survey. In conjunction with this student interns conducted a review of the 2010-2011 course catalog, identifying courses offered within the past year that were focused on or related to sustainability. An independent search for sustainability research was also conducted. While we were able to identify sustainability content in a significant proportion of the courses at CU, expanding sustainability integration into courses remains an area of opportunity for the university. Through its various research institutions CU is a clear leader in academic research. Student education and outreach, key functions of the E-Center, were also areas of strength.
For the Operations category groups and departments across CU's campus submitted their estimates for all operating areas including physical buildings and grounds, GHG emissions, purchasing, waste diversion credits among others. CU has firmly established and begun to reduce its GHG emissions in line with a published Carbon Neutrality Action Plan, and will continue to use innovative programs such as the Eco-Star Challenge to further these efforts.
Planning, Administration, and Engagement is an area of considerable strength at CU. Existing documents such as the 2000 Campus Master Plan contain sustainability at a high level. Among the data collection activities in this area, a comprehensive survey of volunteer organizations based in the University conducted by Volunteer Resource Center director Anna Domenico showed that a large proportion of students conduct service learning. CU students as a whole performed over 1.3 million hours last year.
Finally, as CUs STARS data gathering process neared completion, the STARS team conducted several "pressure tests" of the reported data to insure accuracy and completeness. These were very helpful as the team was able to integrate the inputs from the many Responsible Parties, clarify interpretations, expand precision, and leaven the overall tone of the report.