Campus-wide Efforts Lead to Jump in STARS Evaluation

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney shakes hands with DOER Commissioner Judith Judson Image by Tory Germann
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney shakes hands with DOER Commissioner Judith Judson after unveiling the university's STARS Gold plaque at University Crossing, which also received a LEED silver plaque.

By Ed Brennen

Next stop: Platinum.

UMass Lowell has earned a gold rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System for its campus-wide sustainability efforts, becoming only the third higher education institution in the state to reach that mark.

The achievement comes just one year after the university received a silver rating in its first-ever STARS submission.

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

The university’s STARS Gold plaque was unveiled at University Crossing during an event hosted by Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration celebrating the fact that more than 50 state-owned buildings have achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification — including four here on campus: the gold-certified Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center and the silver-certified Health and Social Sciences Building, University Suites and University Crossing.

“This STARS Gold rating is a true reflection of UMass Lowell’s position as a leader in sustainability, from academics and research, to community and public engagement and, of course, to green building design and operations,” said Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, who noted that while the university continues to grow, its impact on the environment has shrunk.

Since 2011, the physical campus has expanded by 24 percent and full-time enrollments have increased by 18 percent. “At the same time, amazingly, our greenhouse gas emissions are down a remarkable 15 percent per FTE,” Moloney said. “This is the UMass Lowell story: practicing a distinct brand of sustainability in our unique urban setting.”

Moloney attributed this success, in part, to the recent addition of “clear and defined goals” for sustainability to the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan, including targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the ascension to STARS Gold — both of which have now been achieved.

Associate Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony, who once again spearheaded the university’s STARS application process, credited Moloney and the senior leadership team for making sustainability a strategic priority in academics, research and campus operations.

“Chancellor Maloney’s commitment to sustainability really is the driving force,” O’Mahony said. “The fact that we have sustainability in our Strategic Plan is the envy of many universities in the state.”

Big Gains in Academics

After receiving 53.85 points last year for silver, the university received a score of 70.52 in its latest STARS assessment, easily surpassing the gold threshold of 65 points. An institution’s score is based on the percentage of applicable points it earns across four categories: academics, engagement, operations, and planning and administration. A minimum score of 25 is required for bronze, 45 for silver, 65 for gold and 85 for platinum.

UMass Lowell is now one of 96 gold-rated institutions around the world, and joins UMass Amherst and Babson College as the only gold-rated institutions in Massachusetts. Colorado State University is the only STARS Platinum institution. The university’s gold designation is valid for three years, although schools can re-apply to STARS annually. 

UMass Lowell saw its biggest gains in the academics category, where it jumped more than 14 points in “curriculum” (from 19.08 to 33.45) and nearly seven points in “research” (from 5.87 to 12.43).

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney at the state LEED event Image by Tory Germann
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney highlights the university's sustainability efforts during a state-hosted LEED event at University Crossing.

These gains are largely attributable to the recent formation of the 2020 Academic/Research Sustainability Committee. Under the direction of co-chairs Rich Lemoine and Mark Hines, the committee seeks to support the creation of sustainability-related curricula. 

To help achieve these goals, the Office of Sustainability recently did an inventory of the more than 4,700 entries in the course catalogue. Of those, more than 200 were “focused on sustainability” while nearly 500 were “related to sustainability.” The 2020 Academic/Research Sustainability Committee will use that inventory as a baseline for its future efforts.

“Achieving gold shows the continued commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship of the entire university community,” said Lemoine, executive director of Administrative Services and Environmental and Emergency Management, who noted the growing number of student groups on campus devoted to environmental issues. “There’s a true interest to come together for the common good.”

Building Momentum

Joining Moloney for the state LEED event were: Judith Judson, commissioner of the Department of Energy Resources; Joe Naughton, director of capital projects for the UMass Building Authority; Jenna Ide, director of energy and sustainability for the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance; Ed Adelman, director of the Mass. State College Building Authority Director; and Grey Lee, executive director of the state chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Grey Lee addresses the crowd at University Crossing Image by Tory Germann
Grey Lee, executive director of the state chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, thanks the university for its commitment to LEED building design.

“I want to thank Chancellor Moloney for her leadership and for the terrific work you’re doing here at UMass Lowell,” Judson said during the ceremony, where University Crossing’s LEED Silver plaque was also unveiled. “This beautiful building really shows what green buildings can do — and the value that they bring to our state campuses and to other buildings across the state.”

Naughton added that University Crossing is “one of the greatest buildings that the university system has,” while Ide commended the efforts of Energy and Sustainability Manager Paul Piraino and the Facilities Operations and Services staff for continuously looking for energy-saving opportunities.

“It’s not just building the building,” Ide said, “it’s maintaining it, operating it and learning from that process. We work with many state agencies and higher education facilities, and UMass Lowell is definitely one we’re really happy to work with.”

While Moloney was happy to see the university recognized for its continued commitment to sustainability, she reminded those gathered in the University Crossing atrium that there was still important work to be done.

“Every day we see headlines reminding us why it’s so critically important that we take urgent action to address climate change on our planet. And we are committed to doing that,” Moloney said. “At UMass Lowell, we are committed to building on the momentum that we have all worked collectively to achieve. The people in this room and across this university are committed to taking us to the next level.”