Illustration by Emily Cai
For the second time in three years, Yale has been awarded a Gold rating by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)—demonstrating leadership in, and commitment to, sustainability across the University.
Every two years, Yale submits data and information about its sustainability initiatives to AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. More than 300 higher education institutions across the world—from community colleges to research universities—submit to STARS.
The months-long process of collecting and preparing the STARS submission—and the resulting rating from AASHE—assist Yale in measuring its progress against peer institutions, prioritizing its resources, and identifying areas for growth and improvement. The STARS assessment covers five broad topic areas spanning from Academics to Operations to Planning and Administration.
Yale’s 2022 STARS score increased by nearly 3% over its 2020 submission—which also achieved a gold rating—earning 70.5 out of 100 possible points. Improvements were noted around student engagement, transparency in greenhouse gas reporting, and reduced water usage, among other areas.
The 2022 STARS rating is the first to fully reflect the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Yale’s sustainability initiatives. While the early phase of the pandemic resulted in reduced consumption, waste, and energy usage from having fewer people on campus, data collection and waste diversion proved more difficult as priorities shifted toward meeting the immediate health and safety needs of the community.
Yale was nevertheless able to improve upon its 2020 score thanks to new and expanded campus initiatives as well as accommodations made by AASHE that allowed universities to submit older data for programs that were put on hold during the pandemic.
“We are thrilled that Yale has earned a Gold rating on two consecutive submissions. Meeting our sustainability goals is a university-wide effort, and this report demonstrates significant progress from our collective action,” says Ginger Chapman, Director of the Office of Sustainability, which oversees the STARS submission. “We are eager to continue these efforts as we help ensure accountability on the University’s sustainability commitments and work toward achieving a Platinum rating in the near future.”
What Gets Measured
The STARS report assesses a university’s sustainability initiatives across five categories, each with a corresponding series of “credits” that earn points. In each category, Yale saw areas of improvement.
In Academics, Yale’s score for the “Learning Outcomes” credit increased by 25% because a greater number of Yale students (41% of the total student body) graduated from programs that require an understanding of sustainability principles, which include a demonstrated understanding of the way ecosystems provide for human needs.
STARS also assesses colleges and universities on how well they engage their communities in sustainability initiatives. In Engagement, Yale saw a slightly higher score in the “Student Educators Program” credit thanks to a greater number of students being served by peer-to-peer sustainability outreach programs and in the number of hours worked by student “sustainability educators.” The accelerating climate crisis has fueled momentum for student sustainability groups, which include “Sustainability Liaisons” at each of Yale’s 14 residential colleges, as well as student organizations at the professional schools such as the Environmental Stewardship Committee (at the Yale School of the Environment) and Green Action in Architecture, or GAIA, (at the Yale School of Architecture).
In the campus Operations category, Yale improved its previous scores in “Waste Minimization and Diversion” and “Water Use.” In 2022, Yale saw a 34% reduction in total waste generated compared to 2005 levels, and a 20% reduction in potable water usage versus 2013 levels.
Yale also earned new points for “Emissions Inventory and Disclosure.” The University was an early leader in data transparency around greenhouse gas emissions, reporting them publicly since 2005 and verifying them annually with The Climate Registry since 2014. Upon meeting its 2020 emissions reduction target, Yale was able to start reporting its verified emissions to STARS, thereby earning additional points.
For Planning and Administration, Yale earned higher points for the credit “Assessing Diversity and Equity” due to heightened efforts by Belonging at Yale to address outcomes related to diversity, equity, and success. Points also increased for “Affordability and Access,” as Yale increased the percentage of students receiving need-based aid, as well as the number of students graduating without student loan debt.
Finally, Yale’s 2022 STARS submission pursued new credits in Innovation and Leadership for “Green Athletics” based upon the work of the Bulldog Sustainability program, which educates students and Yale Athletics fans about the University’s sustainability initiatives. The Office of Sustainability earned new points for its heightened efforts around Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), including a shift toward more inclusive hiring practices. The University was also newly recognized for “Stormwater Modeling” thanks to the Office of Facilities’ use of innovative software programs “HydroCAD” and “Hydroflow Hydrographs” to manage stormwater. Lastly, Yale earned points for its work to measure Collective Well-Being within the campus community; the Healthy Furniture Initiative; and the Bird-Friendly Building initiative.
The STARS assessment also points to areas where Yale can improve upon its sustainability efforts in coming years, namely around employee sustainability education and professional development, building energy efficiency, and improved waste diversion, among other areas.
“There is more work to do to confront the urgency of the climate crisis, and we have an opportunity to lead the way toward a more sustainable future,” says Chapman. “I’m very proud of our work to date in achieving STARS Gold and inspired by the possibilities as we continue to expand and improve our collective work around sustainability at Yale.”