STARS Reporting Fills Gap Between Measurement and Management

Sustainability data brings campus stakeholders together

Background

A small campus deeply committed to conservation and social justice, Fort Lewis College (FLC) engaged in sustainability action but had insufficient staff to measure accomplishments. In FLC’s integrated sustainability management model, responsibility falls across academics, administration, and student life, and lack of centralized data tracking posed a challenge.

In 2015, FLC partnered with Sightlines to conduct AASHE STARS Operations reporting and gap analysis. “Working with Sightlines allowed us to focus on progressing sustainability work on campus instead of spending all our time collecting data,” says Kathy Hilimire, Sustainability Coordinator and Assistant Professor at FLC.

FLC is not alone; according to an AASHE survey[1], the biggest barrier to STARS participation is lack of resources to complete the extensive process. Sightlines’ streamlined data collection and verification eased the burden on FLC staff, and used the STARS framework to create a snapshot of baseline performance and illuminate a path forward. “Prior to STARS reporting,” says Rachel Landis, Coordinator at FLC’s Environmental Center, “we lacked the ability to portray an extensive ‘snapshot’ or evidence-based projection of next steps.”

Analysis

Results revealed that FLC captured enough points across seven metric categories for a STARS 2.0 Bronze rating. Simply gathering data documented wins already occurring on campus. Through water conservation and xeriscaping efforts, FLC earned 67% of available points in the Water category, nearly double the average of similarly-sized institutions. Sustainable purchasing practices on campus earned 13% more points than peers.

The gap analysis found significant improvement opportunity in two of the largest categories: despite achieving a 21% reduction in carbon emissions since 2011, FLC left 55% of total points unclaimed in Air & Climate, and 65% unclaimed in Energy.

Results

FLC created an Energy Impact Team to tackle fuel shifting, energy efficiency, and increased data tracking. To date, accomplishments include:

  • Purchasing renewable attributes for 50% of campus electricity use
  • Installing a new photovoltaic system
  • Implementing a student-led office audit program
  • Starting a lightbulb exchange, in partnership with a local energy provider
  • Launching a building-level metering and energy dashboard project

FLC also made progress in Dining, where less than a quarter of points were captured in 2015. Sustainable food purchases increased from 2% to 7%, bringing FLC closer to a goal of 20% by 2020.

Beyond the numbers, STARS reporting has improved communication surrounding sustainability. The final presentation assembled stakeholders from departments as diverse as Grounds, Purchasing, and IT to discuss sustainability initiatives. And the conversation continues, says Landis: “This process helped us identify sustainability champions and coach them to spearhead efforts in their departments. This extends our capacity as we step into the support role, trouble-shooting and advising on best practices.”

Gathering dispersed data bolstered a decentralized network. The next step, according to Hilimire and Landis, is to build upward, engaging top-most administrators and pursuing additional resources to keep campus sustainability moving forward.

[1] http://www.aashe.org/files/documents/2015_membership_survey_presentation_final.pdf