PSU again earns Gold STARS sustainability rating in annual review
Author: Campus Sustainability Office
Posted: June 9, 2015

For the third time in a row, Portland State University earned a Gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

STARS, which stands for the Sustainability Tracking and Rating System, is a national benchmarking tool that surveys a full range sustainable features of a college or university—from operations to academics, and administration. PSU, along with Oregon State University, is one of only two STARS Gold-rated universities in Oregon.

So where does PSU shine brightest when it comes to its STARS Gold rating? Below is a list of areas analyzed as part of the benchmarking process, followed by PSU’s score on each. PSU’s entire STARS report is available online.

  • Research (100%): PSU gets high marks for the amount of sustainability-related research conducted, the support provided to encourage student and faculty sustainability research, and providing open access to research.
  • Innovation (100%): Initiatives such as Waste Audit Living Lab Experience, The SAGE (Smart Academic Green Environment) Classroom, Social Sustainability Month, and the Mug Runners program helped PSU perform well in this category.
  • Diversity & Affordability (93.4%): Advocacy for, and assessment of, diversity and affordability are supported by a team of dedicated staff and a stakeholder committee on campus.
  • Coordination, Planning, Governance (87.5%): Sustainability at PSU is well supported by dedicated staff and specialized committees, and the University has formal plans to advance sustainability in numerous areas.
  • Campus Engagement (85%): Students at PSU have ample opportunities to engage with sustainability on campus through classes, events, volunteer opportunities, internships, and other experiences.
  • Water (83.3%): PSU performs well in water conservation as well as the management of stormwater and reuse of rainwater. The Academic Student and Recreation Center, for example, collects rainwater and that feeds into the plumbing system for use in toilets.
  • Transportation (74.7%): At PSU, more than half of the students and staff come to campus via public transportation, biking, or walking, and there are various programs to support access to alternative modes of transport.

The highest achievable STARS rating is Platinum, and so far only one university—Colorado State University—has earned that ranking. To move beyond Gold, Portland State has the following areas that are ripe for improvement:

  • Investment (currently 0%): While divestment has been a hot topic of conversation in the past year, the University’s investments don’t currently meet any of the disclosure and oversight criteria established by AASHE.
  • Dining Services (currently 37.7%): To increase its score PSU should further increase local and third party-verified food purchases, as well as purchase more sustainably-sourced animal products and increase vegan offerings. The Campus Sustainability Office recently worked with Aramark to set goals for increasing sustainable food purchases by at least 5% each year.
  • Energy (currently 38.2%): PSU could perform better in this category by adding more renewable energy sources on campus and further reducing energy consumption.
  • Health, Wellbeing, Work (currently 39.4%): PSU could earn more points in this category by enacting  official living wage compensation standards for all employees, and assessing employee satisfaction through an annual survey of all employees.
  • Buildings (currently 43.4%): With the help of a Green Revolving Fund established in 2013, PSU is actively upgrading its buildings to make them increasingly efficient. Earning more STARS points in this category would require PSU buildings to be certified under LEED for Existing Buildings, something the University is currently exploring.
  • Air & Climate (currently 48.4%): PSU is making progress in this area and actively tracking emissions. The University could improve this score by having greenhouse gas analysis be verified by a third party and continuing to move toward net-zero emissions.

Submitting for a STARS rating not only helps justify PSU’s reputation for sustainability, but also serves as an important benchmarking tool that tracks progress toward improvement in various areas. Although it’s not required by AASHE, after completing the assessment in 2013, the Campus Sustainability Office decided to participate on an annual basis for the ease of data collection and closer monitoring of progress. This most recent Gold rating was achieved using newer version of the program, STARS 2.0, which is a bit more rigorous in its assessment.

The PSU Campus Sustainability Office relies on numerous partners from departments across campus to assist in providing data for the STARS rating, making it truly a campuswide effort that highlights how collaboration is key to a sustainable campus.