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Green with sustainability, Chapman joins two new initiatives

September 1, 2010

Chapman University will be a charter participant in a new program to encourage sustainability in all aspects of higher education.  The program, called the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) is administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

“Our involvement in the STARS program was made possible through the Staff and Community Enhancement Grant awarded to Justin Koppelman, program coordinator for student civic engagement, by the Office of the Chancellor in July,” reports Chris Hutchison, director for student civic engagement in the Department of Student and Campus Life.  “Our participation in the STARS program is taking place concurrently with another new initiative that was part of the same grant: a Green Department Certification program.   Both these initiatives represent great steps Chapman is taking regarding sustainability.”

To date, nearly 230 higher-education institutions have registered as STARS Charter Participants.  AASHE’s STARS program is the only one of its kind that involves publicly reporting comprehensive information regarding a college or university’s sustainability performance.  Participants report achievements in three overall areas: education/research, operations, and planning/administration/engagement.  Each category includes subcategories such as Purchasing, Curriculum, Energy and Human Resources.  There are five rating levels for this program: Reporter, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.  All schools participating in STARS will receive positive recognition.

Unlike other programs, such as the widely criticized and highly secretive College Sustainability Report Card (which threatens universities with “flunking” if they do not participate), STARS is transparent, voluntary, and enables universities to set their own goals and areas of assessment.  According to material sent by STARS, it “focuses on the institution assessing itself with the intent of identifying areas of strength and areas of improvement – it is not meant as a competition with other schools to out-rank them.

“Participation in the STARS program will help Chapman set and meet sustainability goals and will foster information-sharing about practices and performance among the campus sustainability community,” said Koppelman.  “It will give us some great benchmarking data and serve as a collaborative effort among many university areas.”

“The advantage of STARS is that institutions can earn credits for all of their contributions to sustainability,” said Paul Rowland, AASHE executive director.  “From providing sustainability coursework to using green cleaning products to energy efficiency in campus buildings, there are lots of opportunities for a school to identify and track its sustainability progress.”

The aforementioned Green Department Certification, to be piloted this fall, will be conducted by students in the Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI), a program coordinated through Student and Campus Life.  SSI will work with interested campus departments to assess their current business practices and to identify ways in which their resources could be used more efficiently, reduce their operating costs, and help facilitate more sustainable practices, based on research and examples from other institutions of higher education.

The Green Certification program will include a waste assessment, exploration of department habits and behaviors, and identification of specific areas where the department can improve their sustainability performance.  Departments will receive a certification rating of one of five levels: Participant and Level 1, 2, 3 or 4.

A framed certificate and digital seal will be given to departments so they can display their rating in their offices and on their website, indicating they are a certified “Green” department or office.   The SSI will use a calculation tool adapted from other educational institutions (Pomona College, USC, UCLA, etc.) that attended the California Sustainability in Higher Education Conference in July.  Koppelman, Christopher Kim, Ph.D., Jason Keller, Ph.D. and Chapman students attended the conference due to funding provided by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.

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