First-Ever STARS Evaluation Provides Framework for Future

UMass Lowell Image
Events like the Earth Week Sustainability Fair helped the university earn high marks for Campus Engagement in its submission to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. Photo by Tory Germann

By Ed Brennen

The grades are in for the university’s campus-wide sustainability efforts and there’s a silver star atop the report card.

In its first-ever submission to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), the university received a “Silver” rating, joining the ranks of Princeton University, Boston University and Carnegie Mellon University.

Managed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), STARS is a self-reporting framework that measures the sustainability performance of more than 700 colleges and universities in 21 countries around the world.

While the report card highlights many areas of strength and accomplishments, campus leaders are seizing the opportunity to use the assessment to pinpoint places for continued improvement.

“UMass Lowell is proud of the progress we have made toward sustainability and environmental stewardship on our campus and we are looking forward to continually advancing our efforts,” Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations Joanne Yestramski wrote in the university’s application letter, which was submitted May 1. “STARS will support this goal in illustrating areas of focus that we can build upon. We are excited to be an active participant in this program.”

The university earned a ( STARS score of 53.97, which is based on the percentage of applicable points it earned across four categories: academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration. A minimum score of 45 is required for Silver status, 65 for Gold and 85 for Platinum.

The university’s Silver designation is valid for three years, although schools can re-apply to STARS annually. There are currently 124 Silver-level institutions and 77 Gold, including UMass Amherst and the University of Vermont. Colorado State University is the only Platinum-level institution, with a score of 85.29.

“UMass Lowell made a conscious decision to accelerate its commitment to sustainability in the last several years and as a result has experienced numerous successful outcomes benefiting our entire campus community,” wrote Yestramski, who cited the university’s 2011 Climate Action Plan as a springboard to these efforts.

STARS provides applying institutions with a credit checklist covering 70 areas across the four categories of academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration. Staff members from the newly created Office of Sustainability spent the past several months collecting information from a wide range of university offices and stakeholders, reviewing and vetting the data before submitting the application.

“We owe a debt of gratitude and appreciation to our university community, including the students, staff, faculty, administrators and external partners that had the fortitude and collaborative spirit to work together and provide the required assessments and measurements that enabled UMass Lowell to be a STARS Silver recipient,” says Richard Lemoine, director of environmental and emergency management. “This achievement is affirmation that UMass Lowell is a sustainability leader in higher education and focused on achieving excellence as outlined in our 2020 Strategic Plan and our commitment toward carbon neutrality.”

The university’s best score came in Campus Engagement, where it earned 18.91 of a possible 20 points. Other high marks came in Waste (7.28 of 10); Coordination, Planning and Governance (6.67 of 8); Diversity and Affordability (7.50 of 10); Air and Climate (6.81 of 11); Health, Well-being and Work (5.70 of 7) and Public Engagement (13.73 of 16).

Mary House, director of the Office of Sustainability, notes that AASHE recently revamped the STARS scoring system, making it harder for institutions to earn points.

"Under the current version of program, this is a great accomplishment and one the UMass Lowell community should be proud of," House says. "Now we are focusing on the path to STARS Gold, which is certainly achievable."

In achieving that goal, university officials see benefits that will extend far beyond students’ time on campus.

“UMass Lowell’s commitment to sustainability,” Yestramski wrote, “serves as a means to attract the best talent and engage the entire campus community to help our students become leaders in a changing world.”