STARS & the ACUPCC: A History of Collaboration

Second Nature

By Meghan Fay Zahniser, STARS Program Manager, AASHE

(This article appears in the November, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Five years ago AASHE was called upon to develop a consistent way to measure campus sustainability efforts, and the idea for STARS – the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System – was born. In January 2010, after a year-long pilot program and several public comment periods, AASHE launched the first version of STARS where institutions could register to participate and receive a rating. In addition, the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) celebrates the 5th year anniversary of the initiative and the upcoming first round of Progress Reports on Climate Action Planning. Public reporting is an important component of the transformation of higher education as it allows us to track, assess, and learn from our progress toward sustainability. How has the process of reporting developed throughout the history of the campus sustainability movement?

Let’s take a trip back in time to the early years of the campus sustainability movement to learn how the development of both the ACUPCC and STARS reporting systems have developed for the benefit of campuses nationwide.

The ACUPCC originated from a planning session at AASHE’s inaugural conference October of 2006 which included a group of college and university presidents and representatives from Second NatureecoAmerica and AASHE, and was officially launched to the public in 2007.  The mission of the ACUPCC was, and remains, to accelerate progress towards climate neutrality and sustainability by empowering the higher education sector to educate students, create solutions, and provide leadership-by-example for the rest of society. This is accomplished by presidential and chancellor-level commitment to the elimination of net greenhouse gas emissions from specified campus operations, and the promotion of research and educational efforts of higher education to equip society to re-stabilize the earth’s climate.

This mission was reaffirmed by the signatories’ commitment to also publicly report progress through the ACUPCC Reporting System, which allows institutions to hold themselves accountable to the goals of the commitment, make concrete progress in keeping to deadlines, and accurately communicate the progress of the network as a whole.

Five years ago AASHE was called upon to develop a consistent way to measure campus sustainability efforts and the idea for STARS was born. In January 2010, after a year-long pilot program and several public comment periods, AASHE launched the first version of STARS where institutions could register to participate and receive a rating. STARS captures the breadth and depth of a comprehensive sustainability assessment by tracking campus operations, education, research, and administrative components of campus sustainability. STARS is comprised of various credits or specific initiatives that institutions can claim points for. The more points you claim, the higher the rating the institution earns. Institutions also have the option of being a STARS Reporter which gives public recognition to institutions that publicly report their sustainability data but are not interested in receiving a score.

Over the past year and a half, 289 institutions from the US and Canada have registered to participate in STARS. Of these institutions, 163 are ACUPCC signatories. The synergy between these two reporting systems is high.  Activities required under the ACUPCC are rewarded with points in several STARS credits.  For example, creating a climate action plan, conducting an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, developing a climate neutrality plan, incorporating sustainability in the curriculum, and greenhouse gas reduction measures are all actions that contribute to fulfilling the ACUPCC and will also earn an institution points in STARS.  Additionally, the ACUPCC’s Progress Report on the Climate Action Plan has options for reporting on efforts related to the education, research, and community engagement components of the Commitment, and to reduce the reporting burden on colleges and universities participating in both programs, these questions align with STARS credits and criteria.

In a continued effort to have institutions participate in these mutually supportive programs, lower their GHG emissions, and perform a comprehensive sustainability assessment through STARS, AASHE is offering a $250 discount on STARS registration to all ACUPCC signatories throughout the month of November. Signatories that are AASHE members will pay only $650 and signatories that are not AASHE members will pay $1150. This is a great opportunity to sign on to the ACUPCC and STARS!