UWRF receives gold rating in STARS sustainability evaluation
This semester, UW-River Falls was recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its improved sustainability initiatives. For the first time, the school was awarded the gold rating on AASHE’s STARS evaluation.
Standing for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, the assessment is used to hold post-secondary institutions to high standards through a wide array of sustainability criteria. For over seven years, the school has been refining its operations with the aim to graduate from silver status.
“When people ask what bumped us from silver to gold, it’s not any one thing. There’s as many as 30 areas that we’re constantly improving incrementally,” said Mark Klapatch, sustainability and custodial chair.
While the gold rating is a notable benchmark, it simply represents a step in the right direction for the school. According to Klapatch, there are still multiple areas on the report in which UW-River Falls scored zero points.
“If we wanted to bump up our score going forward, we could focus on some of those areas,” he said.
In time, an employee educator’s program would be a practical way to further improve the school’s score. In terms of operations, improved air quality and clean, renewable energy are also on his radar.
Klapatch emphasized the constantly changing nature of the STARS report, which requires schools to adapt yearly to retain their score, let alone improve upon it.
“If we looked at where we were five to six years ago, we were much closer than we were one to three years ago,” he said. The changing criteria forces the school to plan ahead. “If we complete the STARS report next year, I can almost guarantee we will drop back to silver. Gold isn’t the end goal … We should always be improving,” he said.
However, the report isn’t required every year. AASHE allows a three-year window between assessments for effective planning and execution. “I’m advocating to complete the STARS report every two and a half to three years. That way we’ll have time to implement changes strategically,” said Klapatch.
Looking ahead, the STARS report presents long-term goals to strive for. There’s a platinum level above gold, which represents the highest level of sustainability recognition from AASHE. However, this rating is highly elite according to Klapatch. Out of over 800 schools in 30 countries who take part in the report, less than a dozen have received the platinum rating.
Earning the gold rating from AASHE is an important step for UW-River Falls. It demonstrates a significant accomplishment. However, it doesn’t mark a stopping point for the sustainability initiatives. The success on this year’s STARS report is indicative of the school’s ongoing sustainability efforts and serves as a reminder that such efforts result in real progress.