Concordia recently reaffirmed its leadership in campus sustainability, receiving a STARS Silver Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), a membership-driven organization based in Philadelphia that promotes sustainability within higher education.
The ASSHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) offers a way for universities and colleges throughout Canada and the United States to measure their sustainability performance using a transparent, self-reporting framework. It awards bronze, silver, gold and platinum ratings, though it has yet to bestow its highest rating on an institution.
“The STARS silver rating is proof of the immense effort Concordia puts into making its campuses sustainable,” says Rick Young, Senior Director, Environmental Health, Safety and Security. “Sustainability is a process, and we have been actively engaged in it for the past 10 years.”
While relatively new, STARS has attracted more than 300 participating colleges and universities across the United States and Canada, and has already rated more than 200 of them. Concordia was one of just four Canadian institutions to join the pilot STARS project in 2009, along with McGill, University of British Columbia and Acadia.
STARS measures more than 100 parameters, from standard sustainability measures such as greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and waste management, to such things as employee equity and diversity, childcare facilities, socially responsible investments and community engagement.
And, because STARS assesses universities and colleges, it also measures courses, programs and research aimed at furthering sustainability.
“The STARS process highlights individuals and programs on campus who are contributing to Concordia’s sustainability practices, giving us an opportunity to recognize the great work being done and build on it further,” says Roger Côté, Concordia’s Vice-President, Services.
Ashley Finlayson, Concordia’s Sustainability Assessment Coordinator, collected the data required by the AASHE to provide the university with a rating. She says STARS is a great tool for assessing where the university is doing well and where it could improve its sustainability performance.
It’s also useful as a comparison tool, and for learning about best practices, she says. “It’s really great to see what other schools are doing, and say, maybe we could do that here. We didn’t do so well in this area. Who did well? What can we adopt? Why? What’s different? What’s similar? Would it work in our context?”
Finlayson says the STARS assessment brought home Concordia’s strengths compared with other Quebec universities. These include strong student engagement and leadership in waste diversion and energy use.
According to a study released recently by Quebec’s Ministry of Education (MELS), Concordia’s energy use in 2010-2011 was the lowest among the province’s six largest universities, and well below the average of all 20 Quebec universities. It is the 15th consecutive year that Concordia has come out on top.
Finlayson estimates that gathering the data needed to submit a sustainability report consumed more than 1,400 hours, cutting across departments, disciplines and sectors, in the process sparking countless campus conversations. “We had a few experiences where people said, ‘You know what? I never thought of that, but it wouldn’t be so hard to implement, so we’re going to do it,’ ” she says. “This was really encouraging.”
Young agrees that the sustainability assessment process is a great way to get people thinking holistically about sustainability at Concordia. “Sustainability ideas can come from everywhere: students, staff, faculty, and other universities,” he says. “By providing an opportunity for people to learn about and discuss what’s already being done here at Concordia, we can generate more interesting ideas.”
• Concordia’s sustainability assessment at the ASSHE site
• Sustainable Concordia