One of the main goals of the recently completed Year of Climate, a year-long effort between Drexel University and the Academy of Natural Sciences to analyze and improve institutional efforts and programming related to climate and sustainability, was to get a better sense of what those institutional efforts are.
Prior to the start of the Year of the Climate in 2021, the University was already working to accumulate data for submission to the Sustainability Monitoring, Evaluation and Rating System (STARS), a national performance assessment of higher education institutions to report and measure their sustainability performance. Administered by Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), STARS requires colleges and universities to report and reflect on their institutional characteristics, academics, engagement, operations, planning, and administration, and innovation and leadership. Within these categories, the subcategories are grouped and scored on a scale, and an establishment’s cumulative score reflects its rating: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.
When first submitting a STARS report for evaluation, Drexel received a Bronze ranking Last year. The professional staff members who helped submit the report view it as a quantifiable starting point to help the University improve and expand its efforts on its sustainability practices and opportunities.
The University received better marks for public engagement (particularly in the sub-categories “cross-campus collaboration” and “community partnerships”), air and climate (air quality), research (research support) and diversity and affordability (for diversity and equity, coordination and support for underrepresented groups). Areas for improvement included procurement, land, investment and finance.
Now the University is set to submit its second STARS report in March and hopefully move to the next level: a Silver rating.
The first report used data accumulated over the 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years, just before the University established a climate and sustainability task force made up of faculty, professional staff and students to seriously examine University policies and operations, and two years ahead of the Climate Year. Improvements and changes that Drexel had incorporated or finalized prior to submitting the initial report are now included in the second, and additional weaknesses identified in the initial report have also been identified and tracked.
For example, the Buy Score has inspired Drexel to work more with sustainable suppliers, encourage sustainability practices among established third-party suppliers, monitor its cleaning and office paper practices, and buy from suppliers certified by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Electronic Products Environmental Evaluation Tool (EPEAT). And the low land score led to highlighting native plants in Perelman Plaza and working on a grant to replace gas-powered vehicles used to get around campus with electric ones.
Additionally, this time, the submitted data comes from a university and academy that have since elevated and prioritized the resources, opportunities, and need to better integrate climate and sustainability into operational practices, research , academics, civic engagement and culture. In 2021, the Year of the Climate worked and achieved its goals of strengthening the institution’s climate commitment, engaging the community in programs for the public, promoting sustainability and experiential learning. climate-focused, research, civic engagement, and collaboration, and — in part because of the initial STARS Report — inventory, coordinate, and track institutional sustainability practices.
By placing more emphasis on sustainability and climate on campus, there is a greater chance of improving the University’s ability to increase its score.
The university’s sustainability officer, Bo Solomon, was part of the climate and sustainability task force that submitted the original STARS report, and is now part of the new office of climate and sustainability (a formalized evolution working group faculty and professional staff) who will submit the second STARS report in March. He said the amount of effort and coordination to collect data related to institutional infrastructure, practices and audiences, in order to submit the reports, was extensive and time-consuming, but necessary.
“We were pleasantly surprised that when we reached out to all kinds of people across campus – because there are 1,300 data points and 1,300 questions we needed to answer – everyone was happy to help and share insights. data,” Solomon said. “Nobody ever said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ Instead it was, ‘What can I do?’ “
The criteria for submitting and scoring STARS reports are specific and precise, and the data collected to be scored reflects this. For example, the category “academics” contains categories of study and research programs, each of which has its own measures to be graded; the curriculum subcategory assesses an institution’s academic courses, learning outcomes, undergraduate and graduate programs, immersive experience, sustainability literacy assessment, incentives to develop courses and the campus as a living laboratory. To submit data related to the college courses sub-subcategory, for example, the Drexel team researched and compiled information on the total number of undergraduate and graduate courses that were about or included sustainability (for undergraduates: 55 sustainability courses and 193 courses including sustainability; for graduates: 38 sustainability courses and 86 courses including sustainability), the number of university departments offering these courses (37 departments) and the fields in which these courses are offered in (politics, design, nutritional sciences, finance and more).
“It’s one thing to say we’re doing a good job teaching sustainability courses, and it’s another thing to say how many sustainability courses we teach,” Solomon said. “And, of course, it’s huge just to be able to say how many courses in sustainable development there are! We’ve put a lot of work into our report, but we need to do a better job of accumulating and verifying this kind of data and making sure people know why we’re making this effort.
The original STARS report submission process has already shown not only how and where the University can improve, but also what could be included in a second report.
“With our first submission, we were really hesitant,” Solomon said. “This time around, we’re much more thorough in finding leads and trying to pick things up to include. And by digging into the details of how we were scored in our first report, we’ve learned a lot. We expect to earn points in areas we didn’t think or know about a year ago – even small things like putting tips on our website about sustainability things Dragons can do. little things add up.
Like last time, Drexel will submit the STARS report with ongoing programs, strategies and goals that cannot be reported on at this time. For example, his team is considering including a food digester in the Urban Eatery (in addition to the one in the Handschumacher “Hans” catering center), but this is still in progress.
“We’ve done a lot more in the process than we’ve finished, but we’re making a lot of improvements towards where we need to be,” Solomon said.
Drexel Faculty: Solomon and his staff on the Climate and Sustainability Task Force would be happy to speak in classes about sustainability, as they have done in the past – feel free to reach out to them!