Calvin shines in annual sustainability rating index

University maintains STARS Silver level while earning higher marks than last year.
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A local university is closer to its goal.

Calvin University scored 52.54 on the 2020 Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), allowing the university to earn a STARS Silver rating.

The score is an increase from last year. Calvin still earned a Silver rating last year, but with a total score of 45.97.

STARS is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. It is a program of the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“The (ratings) provides us with a way to track all the different aspects of our campus activities that are related to sustainability so we can see what we are doing and also get ideas for improvements on every single aspect,” said Becky Haney, chair and associate professor of the Economics Department and STARS sustainability liaison.

Calvin senior and STARS intern Lillian Spackman was responsible for collecting all the sustainability data.

“Our goal is to reach STARS Gold rating by 2024, which is earning 65% of the available points on the STARS criteria,” she said.

While the STARS system evolves year over year, Spackman said the university has remained consistent in its Silver ratings.

“There have always been consistent and sustained pushes, especially from our people who are responsible for our operations and our facilities,” she said. “Our facilities people, especially, are the unsung heroes of Calvin’s campus because they manage our energy, our water and our grounds. They steadily, year over year, make improvements that are more sustainable. They use less water. They use less energy. They find better practices to manage our grounds. They go out of their way, because they are interested in it, to find better ways to do our recycling program.”

The rating system tracks institutions’ academic, research, engagement, operations, planning and administration, innovation and leadership practices. Many universities participated in the program this year, including American University, Binghamton University, Cornell University, George Washington University, Loyola University Chicago, New York University and more.

The results of the ratings are revealed a year after the tracking was conducted. Therefore, the 2020 STARS Silver rating reflects the efforts taken during the 2018-2019 academic year. The 2019 STARS Silver rating reflects the efforts taken during the 2017-2018 academic year.

One area in which Calvin was able to improve its 2020 Silver STARS rating was in its planning and administration functions, specifically continuing education, where it scored 5.00/5.00. The 2019 rating was 0.88/5.00. The university added two sustainability courses: Preserving God’s Creation in fall 2018 and Turning Country Yards into Prairies in spring 2019.

“Students throughout the university practice sustainability in some fashion,” Haney said. “One of the areas Calvin was able to improve its rating was in the food and dining area”

In 2019, the university scored 1.74/8.00. This year, Calvin scored 2.58/8.00. Much of that improvement came from its efforts to promote sustainable dining.

Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary also partnered to form the Calvin Prison Initiative, which allows inmates at the Richard Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia to enroll at Calvin University and earn a bachelor’s degree. In so doing, they are contributing to what students eat. 

“The first class graduated in 2018 and that class started a community garden at the prison. Since then, Calvin’s dining services has been buying all the production output of that community garden and uses it in our dining hall,” Haney said. “Is that not cool are what? So, we have prison students, campus students, creative leaders of students doing creative things.”

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