Sustainable Gold

By Gregory Pings, February 24, 2020
Ithaca College earns STARS Gold rating for sustainability achievements.

If the word “sustainability” prompts discussion only on environmental matters, then you have missed two vital elements. Do you also consider sustainability’s social and economic dimensions as well?

Ithaca College does, as does the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which developed the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).

a gold seal

Ithaca College has earned a STARS Gold rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education. 

Launched in 2010, STARS measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education. Ithaca College, a charter STARS member, earned its first rating in 2011 (Gold). The college recently learned from the STARS review board that its submission for 2019 will once again earn it a Gold rating, after having slipped to Silver in 2016.

“STARS is a thorough self-assessment rating system,” said Greg Lischke, director of energy management and sustainability for Ithaca College. “Thanks to the support of our senior leadership team and the continued collaboration throughout the entire campus community, the institution made a number of improvements since the last report, resulting in the coveted Gold rating.”

“Since our 2016 report,” President Shirley M. Collado wrote in a letter to members of the AASHE STARS Review Committee, “the college has made substantial organizational enhancements to more fully align our mission, vision and values with the needs of our students and the greater Ithaca community.”

This level of commitment is necessary in a world that demands continuous improvement in all things related to sustainability. For instance, water usage remains an opportunity to improve Ithaca College’s practices and score.

“Water is a big issue for us in terms of budget  and natural resources, but this is not surprising for a campus as old as ours,” Lischke said. “Proactively identifying leaks is an ongoing challenge.”

“It’s a teachable moment,” added campus sustainability coordinator Rebecca Evans. “Immediate improvement will rely on personal choices that people make across the campus.”

Gold “STARS”

With more than 800 participants in 30 countries, AASHE’s STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in five overall areas: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership.

Certainly, the college’s commitment to exclusively purchase Green-e certified electricity and its two-megawatt solar farm in Geneva, New York, figure prominently into the STARS Gold rating. However, Lischke emphasized that campus-wide collaboration was critical to IC’s return to Gold. Notable collaborators include the Office of Student Engagement, which provided the hours that students volunteer throughout the year.

“Programs like Jumpstart and the G.R.E.E.N. Tour foster lifelong commitment to service, involvement and leadership,” Evans explained.

The team in the Office of Analytics and Institutional Research provided data across campus departments that describe how the college performs against any number of sustainability benchmarks. The data is normally used to apply for grants; it is also critical to the STARS evaluation process.

Helping IC rate highly for innovation are the Center for IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change), Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services, and the mobile and permanent food pantries.

Taken together, activity and data from all Ithaca College departments and programs define the school’s commitment to sustainability in every dimension.

“[We] are implementing a new five-year strategic plan, a framework created by our college community that centers the student experience and affirms our priority to be a private college that serves the public good,” Collado wrote in her letter. “We strive to be a model for our peers, our communities and for higher education as a whole.”