URBANA, Ill. — New solar and geothermal energy projects, a reduction in water use, and wide-ranging sustainability research helped the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign earn its fifth consecutive Gold certification in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).
STARS — the nation’s most comprehensive sustainability rating system — is a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure sustainability, run by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Based on a detailed set of criteria in 18 categories encompassing environmental, social, and economic factors, schools earn points toward one of four ratings: bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.
Illinois has consistently achieved Gold certification since it began reporting data through STARS in 2013, and the 2022 score was one of its highest to date.
“We’re proud to be recognized among the world’s leaders in sustainability,” said Madhu Khanna, Interim Director of Illinois’ Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE). “Through the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP), we will continue to build on that legacy — and work toward STARS Platinum status — as we move closer to our goal of climate neutrality.
“Each time we submit STARS reports, the standards AASHE sets become higher. And we meet that challenge thanks to the intensified actions of our students, faculty, and staff — especially those at Facilities & Services (F&S). We are also grateful for support from our administration at the highest levels here on our campus.”
Illinois is one of 89 schools — and one of six Big Ten Conference institutions — to achieve up-to-date Gold certification in the latest 2.2 version of the STARS rating tool. More than 1,000 schools in 40 countries have participated in STARS, reporting achievements in academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership. Illinois reported extensive data on water and energy use, transportation, waste handling operations, dining services, and more, coordinated by iSEE and F&S.
Among the “points of distinction” were the completion of the university’s 54-acre Solar Farm 2.0 along Curtis Road and First Street, generating 20,000 megawatt hours per year of photovoltaic electricity on campus; a geothermal energy system for the new Campus Instructional Facility, which will provide almost 65 percent of the building’s energy demand; and the NRES 285 “iCAP Student Ambassadors” course, taught by iSEE Sustainability Programs Manager Meredith Moore and Academic Instructor/Advisor Eric Green beginning in 2021. Students are trained in a bottom-up approach to campus sustainability implementation and learn about building-level iCAP goals. Solar Farm 2.0 and the iCAP Ambassadors course were nominated as finalists for AASHE’s 2021 Campus Sustainability Achievement Award, recognizing outstanding progress in higher education sustainability.
Other highlights from this year’s report include:
- A significant reduction in water use through energy conservation efforts and installation of low-flow replacement faucets;
- Public engagement, including a focus on community partnerships and continuing education opportunities;
- Support for sustainable research opportunities and the number of participating researchers;
- Sustainable dining options, such as vegan/vegetarian, and support for locally sourced procurement through the Sustainable Student Farm and on-campus farm stand; and
- Campus diversity and affordability efforts through new policies and training, including support for underrepresented groups.
“STARS was developed by the campus sustainability community to provide high standards for recognizing campus sustainability efforts,” AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser said. “The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has demonstrated a substantial commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Gold Rating and is to be congratulated for their efforts.”
— Article by Julie Wurth, iSEE Communications Specialist