Grand Valley among top institutions in country for sustainable practices

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Grand Valley became the only university in the state and one of 45 in the country to receive gold status after completing a sustainability program developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) is designed to help gauge the progress of colleges and universities toward sustainability in all sectors. Grand Valley joins universities such as Arizona State, Stanford and Cornell as a gold STARS status institution. Of the 241 schools that received a ranking nationwide, Grand Valley’s average score was higher than the national score. The assessment included 1,000 questions and compared campus operations from 2005 to 2012. STARS includes four categories: education and research, operations, innovation and planning, and administration and engagement.

This is the second time Grand Valley has participated in the STARS program. In 2011, the university received silver status and in 2008, Grand Valley was selected as one of 90 universities in the U.S. to participate in the pilot phase of the STARS rating system.

Bart Bartels, campus sustainability manager for the Sustainable Community Development Initiative, said, during a reception on March 21, that Grand Valley’s scores went up in most categories, especially in areas of operations, innovation and planning. The university also scored well in the sub-categories of interdisciplinary research, environment, and diversity and affordability.

Anne Hiskes, dean of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, said the entire university is responsible for the success of moving from silver to gold status. “It took support and leadership from many offices and departments across campus to make Grand Valley a leader in sustainability. This would not have been possible without help from everyone.”

Since the last STARS submission, the university has made improvements in areas of composting and recycling, and has added educational and innovative programs such as a student-led Green Team and Eco Reps program, the Sustainable Ambassador Program for offices and departments. The university also made the transition from organizing a sustainability week to a yearlong campus celebration. Additional efforts include installing several electric vehicle charging stations on campus, purchasing more locally grown produce, increasing use of virtual meeting platforms such as ooVoo, and introducing a bike- and car-sharing program.

“We’ve gone from sustainability being a strategy to a value of the university,” said President Thomas J. Haas. “It takes hard work and collaboration to achieve this accomplishment, and it’s a great statement in showing how we’re making a difference in the community.”

The rating system includes bronze, silver, gold and platinum statuses, but no institution has reached platinum status, said Bartels. “We hope to get there in the next few years,” he said.

The full report can be viewed by searching “Grand Valley” at www.stars.aashe.org/institutions.