Western gets gold STARS for sustainability

By Debora Van Brenk

January 20, 2022

Western has earned gold STARS, for the third consecutive time, for its work in improving sustainability on campus, in the community and in global research with impact.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) is a global standard for higher education that tracks progress towards sustainability in academics, engagement, operations and administration.

STARS sustainability goal seal

STARS Sustainability gold seal

“All organizations and institutions are rapidly increasing their commitment to sustainability. These ratings suggest we’re one of the top performing universities in Canada and we’re rapidly advancing sustainability efforts across campus,” said Heather Hyde, Western’s director of sustainability.

The triennial report card measures performance in more than 110 areas that include environmental research and curriculum, greenhouse-gas reduction, purchasing, investment and policy, building innovation, equity, planning, waste and water use, and campus-community involvement.

Western has participated in the international assessments since 2011 and has received gold-level status since 2014 – including in these newly released ratings for 2021 – 2024.

In each assessment, the standards have been more rigorous than in the previous one.

“Western’s STARS ratings represent a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people: innovators in every faculty and department and at every decision-making level who are leading us to a more sustainable future,” Hyde said.

Innovation-sharing tool

The STARS evaluation was developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and includes more than 550 post-secondary institutions worldwide.

Schools submitting their detailed report cards are then rated ‘reporter,’ bronze, silver, gold or (in the case of the top two per cent) platinum.

Heather Hyde in blue sweater

Heather Hyde, director of sustainability

But STARS offers more than just a seal of achievement, Hyde said; it’s a tool for sharing best practices and innovations among a host of post-secondary institutions.

“This is a way to measure ourselves against our peers, both in North America and around the world, and for all of us to look at what the others are doing so that together we can make global change happen,” Hyde said.

She said substantial shifts in recent years in building design and operation, investments and overall strategy have made a difference. “We’ve got tremendous momentum right now that we’ve generated over the past three to five years.”

Sustainability is an imperative under Western’s new strategic plan, Towards Western at 150.

The STARS ratings show some areas where Western receives high marks, including:

  • Air and climate, buildings and energy use. Western has a number of programs, initiatives and infrastructure that aim to reduce carbon emissions and conserve energy use. There are 13 LEED-certified buildings on campus (two more than in the previous STARS ratings period). The university has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 45 per cent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels, and to achieve net-zero emissions for campus operations by 2050. Western’s low-carbon strategy includes completing deep energy retrofits for existing buildings and creating an energy loop that allows excess energy to be shared between buildings, with a resulting drop in GHG emissions of as much as 80 per cent.
  • Sustainability-related courses and research. Western’s Office of Institutional Planning & Budgeting reviewed and created an inventory of all sustainability-related courses, research and theses, and identified how they relate to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The process helps measure impact through student learning and to make improvements for meaningful change. About 310 faculty members (16 per cent of the faculty community) conduct some form of sustainability research.
  • Campus engagement. The Western Sustainability Leaders Program (WSLP) is a network of like-minded students across campus interested in sustainability. The WSLP hosts events throughout the year, and each month features a different theme with guest speakers from across campus and the broader community, and educational and experiential opportunities to get involved. The program offers students ways to network with professionals and peers involved with a wide range of sustainability initiatives and to earn certification as WWF-Canada Living Planet Leaders by offering sustainable living tips, volunteering, and student leadership positions Western has also been featured as a top performer in the buildings category in AASHE’s 2021 Sustainable Campus Index (SCI) – a reflection of the design, construction, operations, maintenance and green-cleaning program for campus buildings.

More than 550 institutions in 14 countries, including the United States and eight Canadian provinces, submitted their STARS reports, which can be accessed at stars.aashe.org.

Sustainability recognition

The new ratings augment other recent recognition of Western’s sustainability efforts: Western ranked 52nd among global universities in the 2020 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings on performance measured relative to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2020 Skål Sustainable Tourism Award recognized Western’s hospitality services division for its work on responsible sourcing, sustainable dining, education, awareness and collaboration, and waste management.

The 2019 Provincial and National Green Building Excellence Awards recognized Western’s Amit Chakma Engineering Building for efficient and effective design and construction.

Late last year, Western joined the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), a group of leading North American research universities working to accelerate local and global solutions to climate change through teaching, research and community resilience-building.

Source: Western University News