The University of Arizona has earned a STARS Gold Rating in recognition of its campus-wide sustainability efforts from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE, a group that measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.
The UA is one of only 30 institutions in the U.S. and Canada to receive the association's gold rating.
The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, known as STARS, counts 173 institutions as members, with 175 institutions having achieved a STARS rating. Institutions do not have to be members to receive ratings.
AASHE's STARS program is the only one of its kind that involves publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university's sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in three overall areas: education and research; operations; and planning, administration and engagement.
Joseph Abraham, director of the UA Office of Sustainability, said the rating reflects a commitment by the entire UA community and a year-long process to collect data and information from a variety of UA departments, programs and administrative offices.
Abraham has been at the UA's sustainability helm since his appointment in October of 2010. He said the AASHE rating stands apart from other sustainability measurements because AASHE has worked collaboratively with other non-profits and higher education associations on the development of the rating system.
A steering committee, strategic advisory committee and a technical advisory committee weighed in on the system, and nearly 70 institutions participated in a year-long pilot program.
"STARS was developed by the campus sustainability community to provide high standards for recognizing campus sustainability efforts," said AASHE Executive Director Paul Rowland. "The University of Arizona has demonstrated a substantial commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Gold Rating and is to be congratulated for its efforts."
Unlike other rating or ranking systems, the program is open to all institutions of higher education in the U.S. and Canada, and the criteria that determine a STARS rating are transparent and accessible to anyone. Because STARS is a program based on credits earned, it allows for both internal comparisons as well as comparisons with similar institutions.
Among the UA's sustainability efforts, the UA offers more than 1,200 courses with a focus on or related to sustainability, including professor Jim Riley's water harvesting class (Soil, Water and Environmental Science 454), which was developed by students.
It further seeks to involve students in sustainability efforts with its Green Fund – the fund allots $400,000 per year to support projects that respond to a campus-wide call for funding to make the UA a more environmentally sustainable institution. The fund has paid for sustainable externships for students and a water-harvesting system at the UA Flandrau Science Center.
The UA's car and bike-sharing program includes 40 bicycles, seven Toyota Prii, one Smart Car, one Mini Cooper, two Nissan Leafs (one for car sharing and one in the general motor pool) and three Ford Escapes. Much of the University Motor Pool runs on E-85 fuel – 85 percent ethanol, derived from corn, a fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline.
To keep up with the UA's sustainability efforts, the UA's Environment and Sustainability Portal provides up-to-date environmental news and events happening on campus including details on environmental research efforts the UA is leading that effect communities in Tucson, Pima County, Arizona, the nation and on tribal lands as well as internationally.