UW taking new steps on sustainability

This last year we did something we’ve never done before as a campus – we pulled together information on all our sustainability efforts, and submitted them for a Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (or STARS) rating. It’s an important step that will help us to organize and track our efforts to make this campus greener.

STARS is a national program that rates colleges and universities on a number of different measures related to campus sustainability. To get a rating, you have to submit a very long and detailed report.  The process took about 1,500 faculty, staff, and student hours over 8 months.  More than 150 members of the UW–Madison community spent eight months compiling a report.

In our first year, we received a “silver” rating, which is not as good as gold or platinum, but better than bronze. And it is a position many big, public institutions are placed in when they begin to measure their sustainability efforts.

To be honest, we’re behind the curve on this effort. Many of our peer schools completed a STARS evaluation several years ago.  The main reason to do this is not the rating level, per se.  The entire process gives us a strong sense of where we’re doing well and where we need to improve.  It provides the data we need to map out a strategic plan to improve sustainability in our community.

A little over a year ago, we hired Missy Nergard, the first full-time director of sustainability on campus. Missy is working with Professor Cathy Middlecamp from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies to develop that strategic sustainability plan for the next three to five years.  If we do this right, we can raise our STARS rating over time.

We’re convening two new groups – both of which will include faculty, staff, students, and community members – to work on different pieces of this plan and to start implementation.  We also have to make sure we’re not working at cross purposes with the city and county’s sustainability efforts.

This initial STARS ranking is only one step in a process. I am very committed to making sure that we steadily improve our greater sustainability practices at UW-Madison.