UO earns gold sustainability rating from international group

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The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in High Education has given the UO a Gold STARS rating, putting it in the top 11 percent of participating institutions; out of the 812 participants across six continents, only 94 were awarded Gold status.

STARS, which stands for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System is the most widely recognized framework for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. It looks at four main areas: academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration.

Academics looks at how much of the curriculum and faculty research is focusing on sustainability. Engagement covers student and public engagement in sustainable practices. The operations category focuses on energy and water use and management, recycling rates, commute offerings and landscape management practices, and planning and administration covers purchasing practices, investments, affordability and benefits.

The UO conducts its STARS report biannually, and the previous report received a Silver rating. This year represents a major step forward in the university’s measurement of sustainable practices, with the biggest improvement seen in the academic category.

“To some extent those gains reflect an increased ability to track what it is we do as an institution,” said Steve Mital, the director of the UO’s Sustainability Office. “Just simply getting a handle on it and establishing relationships with different folks around campus to collect information let us report more accurately.”

There are approximately 800 questions in the STARS report, and the Sustainability Office worked with dozens of people across campus to complete it.

Several specific programs made significant contributions to this jump: the UO’s architecture program is ranked first in the nation for sustainable design education and the sustainable business MBA program is the No. 1 green MBA nationally.

But the UO saw improvement across all categories, not just academics. The Sustainability Faculty Fellowship is a partnership with The Duck Store to create community-engaged learning opportunities around issues of sustainability; the SolarizeU program offered faculty, staff and community members bulk discount on home solar panels; and the university is updating its Climate Action Plan, ensuring sustainable practices at the UO will continue to improve into the future.

“This report validates Oregon’s reputation as a sustainability leader,” Mital said. “Thank you to the hundreds of people whose daily work earned the UO a gold rating.”

By Noah Ripley, University Communications