Stanislaus State’s sustainability efforts — from its environmental-friendly practices to its inclusion of sustainability issues in the curriculum — earned the University a silver rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS).
Created by the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the STARS self-assessment report is voluntary for the 900 universities around the globe that are member institutions. It is, however, required by the CSU Chancellor’s Office, and all 23 CSU Universities are mandated to reach silver status by 2023.
Sustainability Director Wendy Olmstead, with assistance from students Emma Denison and Ashley Camarena-Morales, began conducting the assessment almost immediately after Olmstead was named to her position, new to Stan State, last September.
“We worked with 40 departments across campus,” Olmstead said. “We reached out to all stakeholders. There were not too many people on campus that haven’t participated in this. It cuts through the breadth of the entire University.”
Guided by AASHE’s 272-page online manual, Olmstead and her team gathered institutional data on student population and demographics, student housing, water usage, air and climate control of buildings, purchasing history of everything from office supplies to janitorial materials and such issues as what is being done by leadership, opportunities for women and whether staff and students are paid a living wage.
“I don’t think there’s anyone I didn’t talk to in the last nine months,” Olmstead said.
They collected and sorted the material, then put together a draft of the report, which Olmstead shared with the Stan State Council for Sustainable Futures for review. She then asked a team from Sacramento State, which has reached AASHE’s gold status, to review the work.
Olmstead tweaked the report based on suggestions from both entities before submitting it in April.
While working on the report, Olmstead said she could see the point value add up.
“When we hit bronze, we were ecstatic, and I knew we weren’t finished yet,” Olmstead said. “Then we hit silver and thought, this is great. You don’t go into it thinking you’ll be at this level. Then, when you go through the review process, you want to make sure you hang on to that many points.”
Stan State earned 52.5 points, exceeding the minimum 45 needed for silver status. The gold standard is 65 points, which has been achieved by five CSU campuses: Sacramento, Chico, Channel Islands, Northridge and Cal Polo San Luis Obispo.
“I think 65 points is doable for our campus,” Olmstead said.
Olmstead wasn’t altogether surprised by what the self-assessment revealed.
“Because I’m in facilities and have been talking to them longer than during the past year, I knew we were good on energy efficiency and cutting potable water use,” she said. “I was surprised to learn we divert 93 percent of construction material from demolition projects on the campus to be repurposed instead of going to landfill.”
The fact there are 150 sustainability-related courses offered “was a surprise and not a surprise,” Olmstead said. “I’m thinking there are more. As we continue to talk about sustainability, I think we can identify more courses that are teaching sustainability in some way.”
The report was based on 2019 information, and Olmstead already is looking ahead.
“I think we can get to gold,” she said. “There are things we’ve started since we completed the report.”