MU receives gold rating in most recent STARS report

Improving upon its 2015 score, MU received its second gold rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

MU received its most recent Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System score this month, scoring 69.3 percent of possible points and achieving another gold rating. The current score is up 3.37 points from MU’s 2015 rating.

According to its website, STARS is, “a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.”

The STARS criteria consist of 77 sub-categories that are divided into six sections that range from institutional characteristics to academics. Nearly 900 universities around the world participate in STARS, most of them in the United States. 30.8 percent of the 340 rated institutions have achieved a gold rating. Only three institutions — Colorado State, University of New Hampshire and Stanford — have attained platinum, the highest sustainability rating.

Since MU’s last score in 2015, the STARS rating system has upgraded from version 2.0 to 2.1. The scores that determine each rating have stayed the same, but the criteria in order to obtain that score has become more stringent.

Despite more rigorous grading criteria, MU managed to increase its curriculum sustainability score, going up from 24.73 to 27.20, a 2.47-point increase.

Sustainability Office Manager Srinivasan (Raghu) Raghavan explained the uptick in academic points.

“Basically [it’s] because we looked at a lot more of the curriculum on campus,” Raghavan said. “STARS looks at the sustainability content of the curriculum. My suspicion is that last time we didn’t look at all of the courses offered on campus, but this time I went through about 4,000 courses offered over a year. I looked at their sustainability content and decided which ones were sustainable and which ones were not, and we made a lot of gains on the curriculum front.”

These advancements come despite the budget cuts that reduced the Sustainability Office to just Raghavan and one staff member.

MU gets over 39 percent of its energy from renewable sources and was recognized in 2017 as a national leader by the EPA’s Green Power Partnership. The renewable energy plant, located on west campus off Providence and identifiable by its two smoke stacks, is fueled by biomass energy.

“With regards to operations, the most outstanding aspect of our campus is our energy management program,” Raghavan said.

MU scored lowly, however, in waste minimization and diversion, receiving just 2.39 of 8 points. This is despite designated receptacles being placed around campus.

“Our recycling rate is abysmal; it’s below 20 percent,” Raghavan said. “One of the reasons our rate is so low is because students and staff and faculty don’t throw the right stuff in the right bins, and we have contamination.”

Raghavan uses a three-circle Venn diagram to represent sustainability as a balance between environmental, social and economic factors within a community. Where all three factors overlap is considered sustainable.

Raghavan said that sustainability does not necessarily have to include each of the three factors.

“For example, if there’s a course in the nursing school that looks at elderly care, that is sustainability…” he said. “Courses that look at issues from a holistic perspective, as full life cycle economics, that [also] has partial sustainability content.”

Raghavan said that there are a few courses that embody all three areas of sustainability, particularly in the rural sociology program. But for the most part, all departments have areas where they can improve.

“Some of this is counter cultural; it could be misinterpreted,” Raghavan said. “We have to look at our consumption patterns, and since we live in a consumer society, questioning our consumption patterns becomes a difficult task.”

Edited by Skyler Rossi |

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