February 8, 2012

Cornell Awarded Gold in Sustainability Contest

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On Jan. 30, the University was awarded a gold rating under the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System in recognition of its campus-wide sustainability efforts. Out of 152 participating universities, Cornell was one of 25 to earn a gold rating from STARS.

Designed to promote eco-friendly initiatives on college campuses, STARS is a program organized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. According to its mission statement, member universities can submit data into a system that rates the sustainability of higher education institutions on a scale of bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

“STARS is a great tool for universities to create a standard of measuring sustainability,” said Daniel Roth, associate director of the sustainability office. “The fact that we got a gold rating is a testament to Cornell being one of a small number of universities that are implementing sustainability projects in a robust way and taking a leadership position.”Roth commended STARS’ recognition of student, administrative and faculty-led sustainability efforts. Student initiatives, such as Take Back the Tap, EcoReps and Big Red Bikes, helped Cornell earn several points in the education and research category.

Roth added that student advocacy also indirectly improved Cornell’s STARS rating. He said student persistence was responsible for many sustainability initiatives recently implemented by the University, such as the Climate Action Plan — an effort to eliminate the University’s net carbon emissions by 2050 and reach climate neutrality — and the addition of “more local foods in the dining halls.”

STARS also took into account several administrative efforts to institutionalize sustainability, according to Roth, including the creation of the sustainability office and the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee — a coalition of students, faculty and staff that oversees sustainability efforts, from energy efficiency to water use, on campus.The report, while commending Cornell’s high level of sustainability, also outlined areas in which the University can improve, suggesting that that the University “increase sustainability education in residence halls, increase the use of renewable energy and adopt [a] committee on sustainable investing.”

Cornell’s gold rating will expire in three years since STARS requires universities to submit new data for evaluation after that period of time. President David Skorton stated in a letter to STARS on Sunday that Cornell will continue to be proactive in improving and expanding upon its sustainability initiatives.

“I am proud of the concerted effort that has led Cornell to a gold rating under STARS,” Skorton said. “At the same time, all of us at Cornell acknowledge that there is much more work to be done.

Under the STARS system, universities can earn up to 100 points in each of three categories: education and research, operations, and planning, administration and engagement. The average of points earned within each category determine a university’s overall score. Universities can also earn up to four bonus “innovation points” for sustainability initiatives that do not fit into a specific category.

To earn gold certification, a university must score at least 65 out of 100 points. Cornell earned its gold rating with 66.1 points.

Twenty-four other institutions also earned gold ratings, including Ithaca College. No universities in the program’s history have reached the 85-point requirement to achieve a platinum rating, Roth said.

STARS was founded in 2008 and Cornell became a charter member of the organization in 2010. This made the University eligible to submit sustainability data to STARS for evaluation.

According to Roth, STARS — which weighs social, economic and environmental measures of sustainability — is “more comprehensive” than most existing systems for rating sustainability. He noted that STARS uses metrics such as building and curricula sustainability, diversity initiatives and workers’ compensations.

Original Author: Erin Ellis