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Regent universities enroll in sustainability ranking system

BY LAUREN COFFEY | SEPTEMBER 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa’s three regent universities are each paying $900 to opt in to a sustainability program one UI official touts as being the most comprehensive rating system for higher-education institutions.

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University both enrolled in the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System this year, and the University of Northern Iowa re-enrolled. The three universities each paid a $900 enrollment fee and self-report their on-campus sustainability practices. Universities have one year from their enrollment date to submit data for consideration.

STARS is an annual ranking system that looks at a university’s sustainability efforts and gives it a gold, silver, or bronze rating. The program is administered through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“We think it helps provide insight at how we’re doing by publicly reporting the progress we’re making,” said Liz Christiansen, director of the UI Office of Sustainability. “We’ve been thinking about it for quite a while. I think it’s a good way to measure performance.”

Christiansen said the $900 came from the Sustainability Office’s yearly budget.

“STARS is by far the most comprehensive and objective ranking system out there, and in discussing the experience with other schools we felt that it would be beneficial for us both as internal planning tool,” she said.

The Sustainability Office is responsible for spearheading several new initiatives this year, one of which includes encouraging recycling on home Hawkeye football games. Additionally, Hillcrest Marketplace installed a $58,000 food pulper this past summer to save water and divert waste.

Eric O’Brien, UNI’s sustainability coordinator, Merry Rankin, the director of the Iowa State Live Green Sustainability, and Christiansen recently discussed enrolling in STARS as a way for the regent universities to help one other in improving sustainable practices rather than competing against one another.

 “The sustainability directors have certainly been talking about [enrolling in STARS],” Christiansen said. “We all share information, [and] help each other. I think that’s the things Iowans would expect.”

ISU officials had been using the STARS criteria as a guideline for a year before formally enrolling in the program.

“We’ve been using the STARS framework for our own benchmarking, planning, and goal-making on an informal basis for about a year,” Rankin said. “We’re very excited [to be a part of STARS]. We’re excited for what we’ve accomplished so far and for the formal plan.”

UNI was one of the first universities to be a part of the STARS program, enrolling in January 2010 and re-enrolling in March 2012.

“[STARS] has been extremely helpful, because it shows some things that we’re doing a lot better in some things than we thought we were and some we thought we were doing well in that, compared with other schools, could use some improvement,” O’Brien said. “It’s a completely eye-opening experience.”

All three of the directors say not only are students, faculty, and staff at the universities responsibility for sustainability, the community is as well.

“It’s an ongoing journey; we definitely preserve sustainability as a collective effort,” Rankin said. “We work with such a diverse and motivated group to accomplish a lot. We look at ways to engage the campus and the city of Ames in sustainability.”

O’Brien hopes field questions from UI and ISU officials and have a network for the schools to help each other.

“All of us are interested in collaborating rather than we compete against each other,” O’Brien said. “Although we may not always act that way when there’s football games this weekend.”


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