USC received a silver star on its first sustainability report after a year-long assessment of the university’s environmental footprint in terms of water and energy use, supply chain and procurement and vehicle travel practices.
This was the first time the university had participated in a sustainability review using STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. STARS measures and promotes sustainability in higher education by making an inventory of a university’s environmental actions. More than a thousand higher education institutions use the STARS system, and more than half of them have obtained a grade. About a quarter received a silver star.
“A Silver rating is higher than we initially expected and reflects the hard work many members of our community have put in over the past few years,” said Mick Dalrymple, Director of Sustainability at USC . “It also reflects the tireless efforts of our many campus partners who provided the data necessary for our STARS assessment. “
STARS provides a framework for colleges and universities to benchmark their sustainability efforts and track their improvements. The program is managed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), an industry organization that sets benchmarks for the sustainability efforts of colleges and universities.
To obtain a rating, establishments report their own data, which is verified and reviewed by an AASHE STARS committee. After the review, the final report and the data provided by the institution are made public.
In taking its first STARS exam, USC joins sustainability leaders such as Arizona State University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Stanford University and the University of California system, all of which regularly conduct STARS assessments.
USC Sustainability Data Collection Proves University-Wide Effort
This first STARS report covers the university’s practices from 2015 to 2020 and comes after a painstaking effort of data collection and reporting of almost a year. The Office of Sustainability measured, counted and compiled data relevant to academics, engagement, operations, planning / administration and innovation.
Over a thousand data points were collected across the university with the support of stakeholders such as athletics, facility planning and management, hospitality, the Presidential Sustainability Working Group, academic relations and the USC Research Council. In total, more than a hundred divisions and departments took action.
“Participating in STARS is an essential ingredient for USC to become a champion of sustainability,” said Dan Mazmanian, chair of the Presidential Task Force on Education, Research and Sustainable Operations. “Through STARS, we will be judged on our successes and shortcomings, creativity and transparency, all of which are key elements of our modeling for future entrepreneurs, business leaders, nonprofits, artists and leaders who make the pride of our university. ”
Celebrating the heavyweights of university sustainability
The STARS assessment allows the university to recognize three of its most notable achievements. For USC, those included:
- A successful zero waste program at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which achieved zero waste status in 2017 with 90% or more of its waste diverted from landfills.
- Research from the USC Center for Sustainability Solutions, which advises policies and solutions to Southern California’s most pressing environmental problems. The center aims to reduce carbon dioxide reductions and improve climate adaptation at USC by switching to renewable energy sources – for example, the solar panels that crown the Galen Center. It is also looking for opportunities to reduce pollution and waste in transport and water.
- The Urban Trees Initiative – an academic expert and student partnership with the city of Los Angeles – has been noted for its potential to improve the health and quality of life of many very poor neighborhoods that have few trees. Scientists and officials in Los Angeles behind the initiative hope to grow an urban forest to provide shade, which has been found to reduce health risks associated with air pollution and heat, as well as general well-being benefits, including reduced aggression in adolescents, according to a USC study.
USC STARS Assessment Highlights Top Performers
USC has scored all available points in the community partnerships that the university builds to support long-term sustainability efforts that benefit underrepresented groups and vulnerable populations. The university’s public policy advocacy also received the highest possible score after demonstrating leading administrative support to proactive sustainable development campaigns and legislation.
Thanks in part to carefully tracked purchases of ethically and sustainably produced products, USC Hospitality has helped the university score twice the average percentage of points available for food and beverage.
USC also beat the average biodiversity score with flying colors, a score bolstered by work by the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The headquarters of the institute is Catalina Island, where USC researchers tested new ideas for sustainability, including aquaponics – the sustainable breeding of fish and hydroponic plants – and the potential for cultivation. kelp for biofuel. USC biologists also monitor and study island and marine life to assess the biological and ecological health of the southern California coast.
Sustainability report reveals opportunities for improvement at USC
Relatively low scores in three areas give the Office of Sustainability clear improvement goals.
Sustainable sourcing – which includes a preference for recycled and bio-based content, carbon neutral products, and an intention to support disadvantaged businesses, among other criteria – is one area that USC can build on. Due to the lack of data from years prior to 2019, USC was unable to demonstrate an improvement in waste diversion over time.
USC will also need to improve its policies to become competitive in the design and construction of sustainable buildings. The university is already working on it, as Dr. Allan and Charlotte Ginsburg Human-Centered Computation Hall is designed to achieve elite LEED certification for green building and design when it opens in 2023 to USC students and faculty. Viterbi School of Engineering.
The full STARS report findings – and data submitted by USC – are now publicly available on the AASHE website.
USC Sustainability Report Card: A Starting Point on the Road to 2028
The STARS assessment is a key checkpoint on the way to USC’s 2028 sustainability plan, which will be released next year. Its goals will include an expansion of the sustainability study and research curriculum, elimination of non-essential single-use plastics, zero waste, and greater engagement of the academic community in sustainable practices.
Additionally, this initial assessment creates a benchmark for USC to measure all future progress against. The USC Office of Sustainability will use the report to share feedback with university partners and its departments to make USC a greener university with a smaller environmental footprint.
“It’s a starting point,” said Dalrymple. “We are setting much more ambitious goals to achieve sustainability in our institution and will continue to work on new and innovative ways to achieve these goals.”
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