January 31, 2011

U of L gets gold (and silver) for going green

The University of Louisville is seeing STARS.

On Jan. 24, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, awarded U of L with a silver rating for its efforts in improving its economic, social and environmental impact.

By Elijah Mckenzie

The University of Louisville is seeing STARS.

On Jan. 24, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, awarded U of L with a silver rating for its efforts in improving its economic, social and environmental impact.

STARS, which started in 2006 as a program of the Association for the Development of Sustainability in Higher Education, ranks colleges nationwide with bronze, silver, gold and platinum designations.

“Our goal for the year was to get a STARS bronze rating,” said Justin Mog, assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives. “STARS is comprehensive because it tracks the university’s progress in every way, so we were excited to get the silver rating. It exceeded all our expectations.”

According to Mog, the reason for the modest rating expectation was because U of L just began implementing environmentally friendly initiatives.

The Sustainability Council, which coordinates activities and recommends policies, was formed in 2008. Mog’s position at U of L, aimed at driving the university forward with sustainable programs, was established in 2009.

“We were new and had so much catching up to do,” said Mog. “We didn’t really push the envelope on a universitywide level.”

However, U of L has made headway in creating a strategic plan for coordinating sustainability on campus.

STARS bases its ratings on four classifications: education and research, operations, innovation, and planning, administration and engagement. According to the STARS website, U of L achieved highest in the public engagement category under the planning, administration and engagement classification, scoring 22.90 points out of a possible total of 31.75.

Mog said that one of the measurements under the public engagement category is the number of service hours logged by U of L students. The STARS rating reported that U of L students were doing over 270,000 hours of community service per year.

“A lot of people don’t realize that community service is part of sustainability,” said Mog. “Most people assume it revolves around environmental issues, but true sustainability lies within the realms of economic and social improvement. While we encourage students to be a good steward of the environment, we also encourage students be good neighbors, good citizens of Louisville – promoting the needs of the community.”

One question that STARS asks universities is if they put community service hours on students’ transcripts, which U of L does not. However, there is growing momentum to start putting students’ service hours on a separate transcript because of the overwhelming number of community service hours logged by U of L students every year.

“Although we’re not perfect, we are making progress,” said Mog, referring to the initiatives in place to improve campus sustainability. “Our overall plan is still to improve our STARS score by measuring our sustainability and seeing how we can develop from here.”

One of the many ways U of L has made progress is evident in the Gold certification it has received for the Center of Predictive Medicine biosafety research lab on the ShelbyHurst Campus. The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.

With the recent LEED certification award, the number of Gold-certified buildings at U of L now totals to three, including the Clinical and Translational Research Building, on the Health Sciences Campus, and the Duthie Center for Engineering, part of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering.

Sarah Lynn Cunningham, a professor of green design at U of L, outlined the difference between the LEED certification and the STARS ranking.

“While the STARS rating system is one that specializes in college campuses, the LEED council is really made to measure the efficiency of residential and commercial buildings across the country,” said Cunningham, who currently teaches a course at U of L called Designing Greener, which focuses on the architectural engineering aspect of sustainability.

Cunningham was asked by the Green Initiatives Committee, part of the Engage Lead Serve Board, to speak at an ongoing lecture series highlighting the future of green careers.

“She explained how there are a lot of jobs out there that people don’t think of as green,” said Joe LaCasse, a sophomore biology major and a member of the Green Initiatives Committee. “The lecture series is designed to show students how they can personalize their sustainability.”

At the end of her lecture, Cunningham left students with words of advice on how to balance sustainability with the day-to-day concerns of college life.

“Students can do simple things like turn off lights in dorm rooms when you’re not there,” said Cunningham. “All students should also know that their U of L ID is a TARC pass. You can use any TARC route for free just by flashing your U of L ID.”

The expansion of the sustainability movement is not just limited to the university. The entire city of Louisville has hopped on board, with upcoming enterprises set in place by the Mayor’s Office.

On Jan. 18, Greg Fischer, the newly inaugurated Louisville mayor, announced the goals to improve the energy efficiency of the Metro Development Center, located downtown, and the Newburg Library. Additionally, the Mayor’s Office has stated that, if funding allows, there will be a newly established Office of Sustainability within the next budget cycle.

“Those are part of a larger project the mayor wants to do to make the city greener,” said Chris Poynter, deputy director of communications for the Mayor’s Office. “These are a few small initiatives to get started, but it’s moving in a positive direction.”

Poynter said that the recent STARS and LEED awards given to U of L were a great reminder of the progress that Louisville has made in the way of sustainability.

“When we built the new KFC Yum! arena, we worked with U of L to make sure it was up to code for meeting energy efficiency requirements,” said Poynter. “The example has been set by U of L. And it really compliments the city of Louisville.”

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