Campus Earns Another Gold Rating for Sustainability

Note: This report has been updated with a corrected 2015 STARS score.

In recognition of its sustainability accomplishments in areas such as operations, academics and research, engagement, and administration, the campus has once again received a gold rating announced this month from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The rating is good for three years.

Campus sustainability manager Ezra Small says, “This is the third time the campus has received a gold rating from STARS in a little over three years, which I think demonstrates our commitment to tracking our sustainability progress closely and sharing with the international community of almost 700 participating institutions what our best practices are and where we need to improve.”

AASHE says its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) program, launched in 2006, is not intended to be a rating or ranking tool, but instead is a voluntary, self-reporting framework providing a common standard for measuring social, environmental and economic dimensions of a campus’ sustainability efforts. AASHE has 235 member institutions in the United States and Canada. To date, nearly 700 colleges and universities in 19 countries have registered to participate in the STARS program.

This time, UMass Amherst scored a 68.18 to earn its gold rating, moving up from a score of 66.49 in 2011. The highest category is platinum. To prepare each rating, an online sustainability evaluation tool asks sustainability staff and others involved in “green” campus efforts to report data in categories: academics, campus engagement, operations and planning/administration.

In addition to the 68.18 points, the campus earned all 4 of a possible 4 “innovation points” for special projects. These included:

  • The student-run “New2U Reuse Collection and Tag Sale” collection during spring move-out plus tag sale in fall move-in/first week festivities. This collaboration among Physical Plant, Sustainable UMass students, Residential Life, the Office of Waste Management, Moving Services and New Student Orientation collected more than five tons of material from the Southwest Residential Area during move-out week. Student interns later cleaned, organized and priced them for a two-day tag sale of gently used furniture, storage, electronics, clothing and school supplies. The sale generated over $6,000 returned back to the Sustainability Fund for 2014-15 projects.
  • The Sustainability Curriculum Initiative launched in fall 2012 supports teaching faculty in revising existing courses to include or augment sustainability topics. To highlight interconnections among economy, society, and environment the Libraries, the Provost’s Office, Sustainable UMass, and the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development collaborate to provide this resource for faculty, which includes a $1,000 mini-grant to assist in curriculum development and release time.
  • The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC), a data center in Holyoke dedicated to research computing and operated by Boston University, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern and UMass Amherst. Designed to use 25 percent less energy than typical data centers, the MGHPCC is available for computationally intensive research.
  • The Net Excess Generation Credit program offered by the Commonwealth. The UMass system joined in September 2013 hoping to see nearly $50 million in energy savings. Four campuses will host new solar photovoltaic electric generating projects to receive an energy credit on their monthly utility bill. At UMass Amherst, a solar project came online at the Fairview Farm in Whately in July 2014 and is expected to save between $60,000 and $75,000 a year in electric costs. It will also help the town and the farmer leasing the land. It produces 2.4 megawatts a year for the campus, enough to power the equivalent of nearly 300 homes for a year. Over the next 30 years, the net metering program will provide an estimated $47.7 million in savings for the system.

Overall, AASHE organizers say the STARS program is needed because a campus can only manage what it can measure. The survey provides a venue for colleges and university campuses to share their best practices, learn from other institutions and document improvements over time. A gold star mounted in 2011 near the entrance to the W.E.B. Du Bois Library marks the campus’s national accomplishment.

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