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u buffalo kids Engaging the public - especially the next generation - is a significant focus of UB’s holistic approach to sustainability.

How the Sustainability ‘STARS’ Aligned for the University at Buffalo

Since 1971, when the University at Buffalo created a college named after famed “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson, the large public research institution has been at the forefront of environmental issues.

The university hired its first energy officer in the early 1980s and conducted environmental audits across campus that led to millions of dollars of savings. Between 1999-2009, the university unveiled its first solar electric system, signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, released its first Climate Action Plan and published High Performance Building Guidelines. The campus hosted environmental leaders like Al Gore, Wangari Maathai, and Jean Michel Cousteau, and established the Office of Sustainability to provide environmental stewardship for campus facilities.

In 2011, with the appointment of its first chief sustainability officer, the university stepped back and thought, What now?

“As we were thinking of more of a holistic university-wide strategy for moving forward with sustainability, we realized that we needed a new way of thinking to address the issues of sustainability,” says Chief Sustainability Officer Ryan A. McPherson. “For most of us in the higher education world, our foundation is geared toward the environment.”

"The STARS process opened our eyes beyond environment and climate...it forced us to engage the faculty from each school to really debate what sustainability focused- and -related research is,” says Ryan.

To help the university think in a broader context across operations, curriculum and research, and engagement with the community, the long-time members of AASHE turned to AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Rolling up their sleeves, 100+ members of the campus community including students, staff and faculty dove into the task of measuring their sustainability performance with the self-reporting framework of STARS.

“The STARS process opened our eyes beyond environment and climate,” says Ryan. Using the STARS sustainability framework, the university realized that it was strong in other areas of sustainability including public engagement and an active Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “We wouldn’t have necessarily thought of those issues before in a sustainability context and thought we’d get ‘points’ for them.”

u buffalo As part of his "STARS" course, Sustainability Engagement Coordinator Jim Simon takes students to UB's Solar Strand.

To help collect information for STARS reporting, Sustainability Engagement Coordinator Jim Simon organized a hybrid internship course that engaged eight students in disciplines ranging from environmental engineering to philosophy. Assigned to talk to the responsible parties in one of the three STARS categories (Operations, Curriculum & Research, and Planning, Administration & Engagement) on campus, the students got face time with campus directors, vice presidents and staff members that they normally wouldn’t.

"...it’s a real point of pride to see these students do these amazing things on campus and off," says Jim.

The experience proved valuable. Four of the students went on to be hired at sustainability-focused internships across New York and one was hired as the environmental director of the University at Buffalo Student Association. “For me it’s a real point of pride to see these students do these amazing things on campus and off,” says Jim.

A year and a STARS Silver Rating later, the University at Buffalo’s sustainability wins look a bit different from the past decade:

Expanded sustainability campus partnerships in areas including diversity, affordability and community outreach: “We have a number of partners that came out of STARS that we’re excited to work more closely with,” says Jim.

Sending new sustainability advocates into the workforce: The STARS reporting process created at least eight new student sustainability ambassadors to carry on the work of furthering a sustainable world.

Socially responsible investing: A new socially responsible investing council has now been established to advise the University at Buffalo Foundation.

A more comprehensive research agenda: “STARS forced us to engage the faculty from each school to really debate what sustainability focused- and -related research is,” says Ryan.

New student perspectives on sustainability: Alternative breaks to the Louisiana bayou show students how people are connected to the ecosystem in a way that creates economic sustainability.

“I’m really proud of the amount of people who were involved in STARS on campus,” says Ryan. “The process of engaging the campus community as sustainability advocates on a grassroots level was really important. Frankly, the STARS rating is important for the press release, but who’s going to be there at the end of the day to move things forward?”

Did AASHE have a part in your campus sustainability success story? We'd love to hear about it and feature you too! Please contact Margo Wagner at margo@aashe.org with story ideas.