Published July 1, 2022
Signs of sustainability progress abound around campus at UB. New solar arrays have gone up recently. Additional electric vehicle charging stations add more options for UB community members who’ve ditched gasoline-powered vehicles. And a new recycling, organics and trash (ROT) pilot program debuted with the opening of One World Café.
Add in a host of experiential learning opportunities for students and you find a sampling of some of the reasons UB has again garnered a Gold rating in a widely used higher education sustainability tracking tool.
UB’s submission for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, was just certified Gold by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the organization that runs STARS, a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.
There are plenty of reasons to celebrate Gold at UB. Conversely, much more work remains as the university strives toward its aggressive climate action plan goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030.
“Simply put, sustainability at UB is focused on building a better world for future generations. We are committed to creating meaningful change through our teaching, research and engagement mission,” says President Satish K. Tripathi.
“Here at UB, our STARS designation is a source of immense pride for all of us. Moreover, it serves to motivate and inspire our campus community as we continue to both fulfill our commitment to climate neutrality by 2030 and to advance the Sustainable Development Goals,” Tripathi adds.
The breadth of the STARS report — UB’s is nearly 300 pages — is significant, detailing the myriad aspects in which UB excels, while identifying opportunities to improve. UB’s STARS strongpoints include academics, both within the curriculum and research subcategories, as well as campus engagement, operations, and innovation and leadership.
Growth areas include things like improving existing building operations and maintenance, and building off of much of the work Campus Dining and Shops already does by taking it to the next level with more climate friendly food and beverage purchasing.
With enough support from all corners of UB — faculty, staff, students, academic, administrative and operational units — UB could pursue a Platinum rating, placing the university in rare company within higher education.
“There’s a role for everyone at UB to play in this,” says Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer. “STARS helps gives us an objective look at where we are, how we can evolve and what can be led by different units across campus. We use STARS to guide our work and push it forward.”
The STARS report consists of five categories to which colleges and universities can submit data and earn points: Academics, Engagement, Operations, Planning and Administration, and Innovation and Leadership, a new category in version 2.2, the latest available for campuses to file. UB’s score of 68.5 achieves the Gold rating (65-84 points).
UB scooped up some of its highest point totals in experiential learning and using the campus as a learning tool, even despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s STARS submission spotlights several programs that, collectively, earned UB Innovation and Leadership credits, such as extensive new on-campus solar arrays, UB ReUSE, HIRED and the Food Recovery Network. UB also was recognized for its campus garden, a sustainability office diversity program and an online sustainability course the university offers.
There are also substantial tie-ins to the President’s Advisory Council on Race, particularly within the area of scholarship, tenure and recognition, which recommends recognizing civic engagement and service activities among UB faculty and staff.
STARS also awards points for anti-racism training for faculty and staff; internship programs on diversity, equity and inclusion work in decanal units; and revising learning outcomes to address anti-racism.
“The President’s Advisory Council on Race provides a great model for how to change the culture campuswide, and that’s what we’re attempting to do from a sustainability standpoint with our STARS report,” says Derek Nichols, associate director for sustainability. “It demonstrates that with collective action, systems change and individual accountability, the university can really move forward in an impactful way.”
New York State’s prioritization of sustainability, as evidenced through its Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, is also helping to drive conversations around sustainability, both across campus and statewide, Nichols says.
The fact that UB’s climate action plan goes farther, was created earlier and has a more aggressive goal than the state’s isn’t enough on which to rest UB’s laurels, McPherson notes. Even if UB were to one day achieve a Platinum STARS rating, the marathon continues.
“There’s no finish line when it comes to sustainability and climate action. We must continue to work to create the world we seek,” McPherson says.
UB is definitely one of the best in the world.