The organization is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and the Office of Sustainability just signed on with them in January.
“It’s all about sustainability and higher education,” said Jennifer Morse, outreach and communications officer for the Office of Sustainability. “They have a new assessment system called STARS, and it’s the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System. Right now we’re in the process of working to compile the data that goes into the assessment.”
Jillian Buckholz, STARS program coordinator, said the program was created in January 2010, and she hoped the assessment would reach new standards of accuracy and reliability.
“The higher education community has really had a stake in how far it’s been developed,” Buckholz said. “It’s a completely transparent system, so we took several years to develop this with input from folks in higher ed who would use this tool once it has been created.”
The assessment will cover not only the activities of the Office of Sustainability, but energy policies under Facilities Management as well as in-class lessons covering sustainability.
“It is important to note that sustainability isn’t just environmental issues,” Morse said. “It’s also social issues, like social justice and poverty and also economic issues. It encompasses everything involved and looks long-term into the future.”
Morse said sustainability is the practice of distributing a reasonable amount of resources fairly across a spectrum of people.
“We don’t want to take everything from the natural environment for this generation,” Morse said. “We’re not looking five years or 10 or 100. We’re looking long-term what’s going to be sustainable.”
Richard Penaskovic, professor of religious studies, is one of the University staff who has worked to incorporate sustainability into his classes.
“I offered a course in 2009 on religion and the environment, and I started reading up about the environment and sustainability came up, so I said, ‘Boy, that’s an interesting thing,” Penaskovic said. “That’s going to be the wave of the future.’”
Penaskovic’s class is now one of the included classes in the sustainability minor, and he has since become more involved in sustainability on campus.
“I’m also doing a capstone course in sustainability and students are doing projects,” Penaskovic said. “One of them has to do with recycling office furniture in the Auburn area, so what they’re doing is creating a business plan for constructing and selling new furniture made from discarded materials.”
Other employees across campus are catching on, and Morse said STARS has encouraged many different administrations across campus to become more active.
“Part of the idea is that we acknowledge that everyone on campus has something to contribute to sustainability,” Morse said. “This isn’t an issue that can be solved by authority or looking to a particular person. Everyone affects sustainability.”
Penaskovic said his class has shown his students they can play their part too.
“I had a student in my class last semester, and his consciousness was raised about saving energy, and by following a few tips we spoke about during class he cut his energy bill from over $300 a month to $175 a month,” Penaskovic said.
STARS plans to rate 310 universities, but Morse said she doesn’t see the ratings as a competition.
“I think to compare AU to other schools in the SEC and say we’re doing better than them is really hard to do, and not necessary,” Morse said. “The whole idea with sustainability is we’re all in this together and to not view it so much as a competition, but as cooperation, like, ‘Hey, we’re working with these folks.’”