'Greenest College' Rankings Get Easier with New Data-Gathering Effort

'Greenest College' Rankings Get Easier with New Data-Gathering Effort

If a new tool published today takes root, expect to see much larger -- and perhaps more competitive -- rankings of the nation's most sustainable colleges and universities.

Two of the biggest publishers of educational rankings, the Princeton Review and Sierra Magazine, today have joined with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to promote the Campus Sustainability Data Collector, a free tool that aims to make it easier for any education institution to report its environmental impacts.

The Data Collector is a simplified (and free) version of the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which was launched in 2008, after years of work spent developing a comprehensive reporting system for campus sustainability efforts.

Data gathered under the new tool are in some ways an offshoot of AASHE's larger STARS system, but are also tailored more specifically to the needs of three publications that rank sustainable universities: The Princeton Review, Sierra magazine, and the Sustainable Endowments Institute. Schools that don't pay the $450 to $1,700 yearly fees to take part in STARS can still use the Data Collector to submit that data to the various ranking organizations.

There are hundreds of practice areas that schools reporting into AASHE's system can earn points on; scores for STARS-ranking schools are tiered into five levels, ranking from the basic "Reporter" level up to Platinum.

Among the data points collected by AASHE for the reporting tools are:

• Education and Research practices, including green-focused curricula, new student sustainability orientations, and faculty working on sustainability research;
• Operations practices, including greenhouse gas emissions reporting and reduction targets, green dining hall efforts ranging from composting to vegan dining options, campus grounds guidelines, transportation, waste and water management;
• Administration practices, ranging from campus diversity to socially responsible investing to on-campus farmer's markets;
• Innovation practices, an open field of points that reward "new, extraordinary, unique, ground-­‐breaking, or uncommon outcomes, policies, and practices that greatly exceed the highest criterion of an existing STARS credit or are not covered by an existing STARS credit," according to the STARS guidelines.

There is growing interest in sustainability in higher education, something we've long covered on GreenBiz.com, but which is picking up speed. In part, the interest stems from the fact that the generation of students currently enrolled at all levels of education expected to be much more focused on environmental issues.

But campuses of all sizes in all parts of the country have the opportunity to serve as greenhouses of sustainability innovation, whether that takes the form of campus microgrids to deploy smart technologies or meeting student and faculty demand for things like organic food and car sharing.

Last week, the University of Vermont launched an online certification for campus sustainability professionals to tap in to the demand for greener schools. The University has long been one of the greenest schools in the nation, with an overall A- grade on the College Sustainability Report Card.

University of Maryland photo via Shutterstock.