November 18, 2020
This fall, Yale was awarded a Gold rating through STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, which is administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
As a benchmark for sustainability, STARS encompasses over 60 credits organized within academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership. Each credit correlates to a certain number of points, and schools self-report their standings based on University data. To achieve its rating, Yale amassed 68.79 points, crossing the 65-point Gold threshold.
As an institution, Yale first participated in STARS in 2011 and then biannually since 2016. Before 2020, the University repeatedly found itself within the Silver ranking—62.77 in 2018, 62.54 in 2016, and 55.29 in 2011. Though STARS is only one benchmark of sustainability, it is impressively comprehensive and provides a good framework for comparisons across higher education institutions. Yale’s increasing ranking demonstrates both the collaboration and incentivization surrounding sustainability that STARS supports and the University’s own prioritization of sustainability in all aspects of University life.
When asked what helped Yale close the gap between 2018 and 2020, Lindsay Crum, Senior Manager, Data Analysis & Program Management, explained that the biggest change was the 2018 implementation of the sustainability literacy survey, distributed to all faculty, staff, and 1st and 3rd year students. In addition, since Yale re-started to submit to STARS in 2016, the Office of Sustainability gained more access to data that demonstrates Yale’s commitment to sustainability. Otherwise, the 2020 results are representative of Yale’s ongoing sustainability initiatives; having reached the gold ranking, results will most likely continue to move, albeit more incrementally, in the right direction.
Nevertheless, from the Office of Sustainability’s perspective, 2020 was a true nail-biter. Prepping to submit data for STARS is a multi-month process that involves the Office of Sustainability staff tracking down data figures across the University in all 5 categories of credits. This year, Crum explains it was clear that Yale was near the Gold threshold, but just how close was unclear.
Inevitably, COVID-19 complicated and slowed the data collection process. As a result, Yale submitted its report—then subject to an audit and revisions—in August compared to the typical end of fiscal year June. While AASHE accepts submissions on a rolling basis, this delayed timing unfortunately prevented Yale from submitting updated profiles to sustainability associations whose submissions close with the fiscal year, such as the Sierra Club and Princeton Review. Thankfully, though, since 2016, Yale has kept track of its sustainability records in a massive tracking spreadsheet system that has proved, this year more than ever, to be a substantial self-investment. Anticipation of Yale’s results—increased by the fact that during the revision phase, projected rankings remain hidden—was high as the 6-month process came to a close in October. Ultimately, due to the ongoing efforts made by the University, and the hard work of the Office of Sustainability data collectors, Yale pulled through with a 3-point margin in early November!
The unprecedented STARS news comes at the end of an unprecedented semester on campus. Though the entire Yale community has felt the weight of the pandemic, self-commitment to fostering a diverse, sustainable community has not faltered at Yale. The University is pleased about the Gold ranking and continuing its sustainability work into 2022 (the next round of STARS reporting) and beyond. For more information about Yale’s sustainability initiatives, comprehensive reporting can be found in annually updated Progress Reports that track progress toward university sustainability goals.