The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has recognized and awarded the University of Rochester a STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) Silver rating for its sustainability achievements.
AASHE connects colleges and universities by offering various resources and networks in hope of developing a more sustainable future. AASHE’s STARS program allows higher education institutions to self-report their accomplishments and measure their current sustainability performance. More than 950 colleges and universities from around the world have registered to use the program as a tool to highlight their sustainability efforts within the five categories: 1) academics, 2) engagement, 3) operations, 4) planning and administration, and 5) innovation and leadership. Each category is further organized into subcategories including, but not limited to, research, public engagement, investment, food and dining, innovation, and transportation.
While every campus strives to excel in each category, the STARS program’s ranking criteria is not easy to meet. This is not the first time the University has been recognized for its sustainability efforts. The University has previously completed the self-report in 2016 and earned a STARS Silver ranking at that time.
Since then, the University of Rochester and its community has continued to enhance its projects and expand its influence. Some of the newer additions to the university’s 2019 STARS report are outlined below:
- The Summer Sustainability Community-Engaged Research program allows four undergraduate students to conduct research under the guidance of a faculty member. This community problem-based applied research and learning experience allows students to focus on climate change and public health concerns. This summer, the selected students will address food issues including urban agriculture and food access. In addition to this program, there are more than 65 faculty who are making advancements in sustainability research at the university which totals 72% of research-producing departments that are engaged in sustainability research.
- The University of Rochester Dining Services consistently works with organizations both on and off campus to help deliver fresh, local meals to its students, employees, and the surrounding community. Whether it is teaming up with Dining Team Green to analyze the amount of plate waste produced or working with the Food Recovery Network to donate leftovers to local soup kitchens, Dining Services never ceases to look for sustainable improvement opportunities. One of the most popular items in the dining halls is the Eco-Clamshell, a green plastic reusable container that allows students to pack food to go. Clamshell users can simply return their container to the dining halls for a new one to help reduce waste from disposable containers. Another addition to the Dining Services’ initiatives is the Enviro Pure Systems biodigester in Douglass Dining Center on the university’s River Campus which takes organic pre-consumer and post-consumer waste and converts it into gray water that is disposed of through the municipal wastewater system. This technology, in addition to the university’s off-site compost program, helps to reduce the amount of food waste discarded.
- The Green Reps Program is comprised of employees from all departments throughout the entire university and has been a successful example of the extent of the university’s efforts. Green Reps not only receive a monthly e-newsletter, The Compost, but also serve as advocates, liaisons, and teachers. Members of this community play a crucial role in educating their colleagues about a more sustainable lifestyle both in and outside the workplace by raising awareness, participating in various departmental competitions, and more. A similar program among the student population is the EcoReps Program. EcoReps are students who collaborate with their fellow residents and other student leaders to promote sustainability on campus.
The recent STARS award has sparked positive feedback among many students. Muskaan Vasandani, a first-year EcoRep, states, “I’m proud that our university has won yet another STARS award. It means one thing when we win an award, but to have won the same award two times in a row means our university is truly trying its best to be environmentally friendly.”
Dax Emerson, an EcoRep coordinator for the 2018-2019 school year, also adds to the excitement of receiving the recent award when he exclaims, “I think Rochester’s sustainability efforts are becoming ‘ever better,’ much in the spirit of the school’s motto!”
Despite the immense amount of positive reactions, the student community continues to remain humble about their efforts and strives for even more progress. Rosemary Aviste, EcoRep Director and resident of Greenspace, reminds everyone that “It is always nice to get recognition for the good work being done; however, it is also crucial to not let this slow us down for future progress. There is still a lot to do!”
With more than 100 current undergraduate and graduate courses that include sustainability, the University of Rochester is definitely on its way to developing and achieving a more sustainable community. For more information on the University of Rochester’s sustainability efforts and progress, please visit the university’s Sustainability page.
Written By Emily Su, Class of 2021