Berkeley Reaches STARS Gold

February 6, 2019

In its first ever complete STARS submission, UC Berkeley earned a high Gold rating in the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, which is used by more than 900 colleges and universities around the world to establish their environmental and social sustainability bona fides.

UC Berkeley's 78.5 point score came in 11th highest of the 349 colleges and universities with an active STARS rating, and placed the campus just 6.5 points away from the top Platinum rating. That result also lifted UC Berkeley to the second highest score among UC campuses, only trailing Platinum-rated UC Irvine. For a campus that has long been a pioneer in environmental sciences and best practices, UC Berkeley received important recognition from the most comprehensive and widely used academic sustainability assessment tool.

            "UC Berkeley's first ever STARS assessment has given us important insight into what we're doing well to incorporate sustainability in all parts of our campus, new areas for improvement and gauges for how we compare to hundreds of other colleges and universities," said Kira Stoll, UC Berkeley's director of sustainability. "We are pleased with these results and are committed and inspired to put these lessons into practice."

            The results highlighted UC Berkeley's longtime strengths in environmental research and scholarship as well as its innovative approaches to campus operations that reduce energy use, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and waste production. The campus' top-ranked environmental sciences programs helped UC Berkeley notch perfect STARS scores for its sustainability-themed undergraduate and graduate programs as well as earn 17.33 out of 18 points in sustainability-focused research. The STARS scores also reflected the strength of campus initiatives weaving social and economic sustainability into academic and campus life. The campus scored 11.15 out of 14 points in STARS' Academic Courses category based largely on its requirement that all undergraduates earn a passing grade in at least one American Cultures course most of which contain a social, economic or environmental sustainability theme.

Students gardening               field learning at UC Berkeley                Student fellows at Sustainability Summit poster session

The university also earned perfect scores in the Campus as a Living Laboratory field, which assesses how sustainability education is incorporated into building, air quality and other on-campus operations; the Outreach Campaign field measuring campus programs designed to share sustainability information with the student body; and Community Partnerships that promote cooperation by the campus and its Bay Area neighbors in sustainability work. Finally, UC Berkeley earned perfect scores in Support for Underrepresented Groups, Student Life and Participation in Public Policy - fields that measure diversity and equity in the campus community.

            "UC Berkeley will build on this solid foundation as we meet our goals to stop adding waste to landfills by next year and to produce no net carbon from campus operations by 2025," said Marc Fisher, vice chancellor of administration. "We will also find new ways to teach and practice sustainability outside of our classroom and labs, by weaving sustainability into many of our campus operations."

            Looking ahead, the STARS results suggest diverse pathways to winning a Platinum rating in the next submission. The university could earn up to 4 more points in the Sustainability Literary Assessment field by launching a limited or campuswide survey that gauges student values, behaviors and beliefs about sustainability topics as well as their awareness of campus sustainability initiatives. In the current STARS assessment, UC Berkeley missed capturing any of the field's four points. The campus could also earn up 4.73 more points in Student Educators and Employee Educators Programs by creating peer-to-peer training programs that would teach students and staff members how to share sustainability best practices with their peers.  At the same time, the STARS tool pointed to opportunities for the campus to more explicitly commit itself to sustainability-based education - such as through declared campus- or department-wide sustainability learning outcomes.

Solar Panels at the RSF Complex

            Other areas with big potential STARS point gains could prove costlier. For example, UC Berkeley surrendered all but .1 out of 4 points in STARS' Clean and Renewable Energy field - a reflection of campus on-site renewable energy sources producing less than 1 percent of the total energy consumed. Replacing UC Berkeley's 30-year-old natural gas-powered turbine, which produces almost all of the campus' electricity, would require a major investment of millions of dollars. Stanford University, for example, one of five institutions that earned a STARS Platinum rating, spent $468 million in 2016 on a waste heat-capture system that more efficiently heats labs, classrooms and other buildings. Nevertheless, Stanford also failed to earn more than a point in the Clean and Renewable Energy category. Both UC Berkeley and Stanford's low scores reflect the challenges posed by STARS' emphasis on on-site renewable energy generation meeting a large share of campus energy needs.

          Certified on December 12, 2018, the STARS results were the culmination of a year's worth of data collection, interviews and other research conducted by UC Berkeley Sustainability Director Kira Stoll and Jack Chang, a graduate student fellow with the Office of Sustainability. More detail can be found at the office's online performance pages as well as the campus' STARS report. An inventory of sustainability-themed courses at UC Berkeley, collected as part of STARS, can also be found on the sustainability office's website. The STARS team received invaluable help from the Office of Planning and Analysis, the Student Environmental Resource Center, Cal Dining, Parking and Transportation, Facilities Services, Human Resources, UC Berkeley Extension and nearly every academic department. Finally, the Office of Sustainability benefited from helpful guidance from colleagues at UC Irvine, UC San Diego, Stanford and Colorado State University.

            The next edition of STARS, version 2.2, is scheduled to go live by May 2019, with changes in definitions and criteria being proposed through the assessment tool. That promises to give UC Berkeley another chance to show off to the world its strengths in sustainability research, academics and operations, and another shot at hitting Platinum. This time, even more people from across campus will be invited to help Berkeley build this sustainability profile and expand how the campus practices and teaches these core principles.