University wins gold for sustainability


GVSU students help compost and recycle materials at a home football game. Courtesy GVSU

A university striving for campus-wide sustainability was awarded a gold rating in a higher education program developed to benchmark industry initiatives.


Grand Valley State University said last month that it received a gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, or STARS, which is a program by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The STARS program is a self-reporting framework for colleges to measure performance in sustainability and is intended to engage and recognize academic institutions in varying levels of progress. The program, which includes more than 900 self-assessment questions, requires each submission to have an accompanying letter from the academic institution’s president or highest-ranking executive to promote data accuracy.

There are 209 current participants in the program, including Aquinas College, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, which was awarded a silver rating.

GVSU is the only school in the state to receive a gold rating.

Campus initiative

Anne Hiskes, dean of the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies at GVSU, said the STARS reporting helps the community on GVSU’s campus identify areas of strength and areas for improvement.

“A gold rating helps establish Grand Valley as a leader and community resource in dealing with complex issues where economic, environmental and social welfare issues intersect,” Hiskes said.

The university’s Sustainable Community Development Initiative is within the Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies, and the initiative is designed to provide the GVSU community with the skills and capabilities to improve sustainability efforts.

GVSU has participated in the STARS program for three years and initially received a silver rating in 2011, before gaining gold status in 2013 and this year. Platinum is the highest rating, and no school has obtained that level.

For all versions of the STARS program, 62 institutions have received a gold rating, 153 were awarded a silver rating and 68 were given a bronze rating.


The program awards points in several categories: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration.

Within academics, an institution can earn points for curriculum-related efforts and research initiatives. Engagement includes points for programs and services both on campus and with the public. The measures within planning and administration cover multiple categories: coordination, planning and governance; diversity and affordability; health, well being and work; and investment.

An academic institution can also receive additional points for innovative practices and performances that aren't already covered in the four core categories. 

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