STARS Gold Score Reflects Commitment to Collaboration, Community Engagement

Three bees pollinate pink and yellow flowers Image by Ed Brennen
UMass Lowell's pollinator gardens, such as this one outside University Crossing, are just one reason why UML has a STARS Gold score of 83.37, the highest in Massachusetts.

By Ed Brennen

UMass Lowell has strengthened its standing as the highest-rated campus in Massachusetts for sustainability, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

In its latest Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) submission, UMass Lowell received a Gold score of 83.37, which is the third-highest in New England and nearly a six-point jump from its previous submission in 2019.

UML is now less than two points shy of the 85 needed for STARS Platinum — a rating that has been achieved by just 10 institutions in the United States and Canada. 

“We are proud to once again be recognized as a national leader in sustainability,” says Chancellor Jacquie Moloney. “This submission is particularly meaningful to us in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the most challenging operational period for higher education in living memory, UMass Lowell’s commitment to sustainability remained steadfast.”

With more than 1,000 participants in 40 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.

Students sit under solar umbrellas on campus as a student walks by Image by Ed Brennen
The university installed new patio umbrellas with solar-powered charging stations across campus this year.
A key reason for the university’s climbing STARS score is the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy, which was founded in 2019 to serve as UML’s hub for hands-on research on sustainability, climate change and renewable energy. 

“We are working collaboratively across traditionally siloed areas to get more done,” says Ruairi O’Mahony, executive director of the Rist Institute. “Our students are engaged, hard-working and passionate about finding solutions, and that is driving how the university approaches and invests in sustainability.”

The university earned the bulk of its points in the categories of curriculum, research, campus engagement and public engagement.

“Our community engagement work continues to be a huge standout for us in comparison to peer institutions,” O’Mahony says.

And thanks to Facilities Management’s continued focus on energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction — work that was recently recognized by the commonwealth — UML made strides in the “operations” area.

Asst. Director of Sustainability Craig Thomas managed the submission process, which was the university’s fourth since 2014 — when it started with a STARS Silver score of 53.97.

A student carries a water cooler past an idling car during a recycling event Image by Ed Brennen
A student employee from the Office of Sustainability carries an item that was dropped off during the Fall into Recycling event outside University Crossing.
“This submission is our most comprehensive and complete assessment of sustainability undertaken to date,” says Steven O’Riordan, vice chancellor for finance and operations. “As with our previous submissions, we will use this assessment to guide our future sustainability work.”

To ensure that its STARS submission was unbiased and comprehensive, the university hired sustainability consultants GreenerU to help with its reporting.

“UMass Lowell is accomplishing where sustainability matters: academics, research, engagement, planning, community partnerships and more,” says GreenerU Director Lisa Bjerke. “I am impressed with the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy creating hands-on sustainability, climate change and energy research opportunities for students, faculty and staff.”

The STARS score is valid for three years, although schools can resubmit earlier than that.