In its 2021 submission, UC Berkeley earned a Platinum rating in the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, a comprehensive sustainability rating system for colleges and universities that addresses the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability. This marks an exciting achievement from our first-ever STARS submission in 2018, advancing our campus from Gold to Platinum despite stricter criteria under this newest edition of STARS. In particular, our report this time around sought to encompass a holistic view of sustainability through guidance by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This expanded view of sustainability allowed us to better capture the range and depth of sustainability initiatives on campus and in the classroom.
UC Berkeley's 85.39-point score came in 7th highest of the 674 colleges and universities with an active STARS rating, and 3rd highest among the institutions reporting under the most recent version of STARS, v.2.2. This achievement also lifted UC Berkeley to the highest score among UC campuses under this most recent edition of STARS, with UC Irvine following with a Platinum rating under STARS v.2.1. 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.
STARS is a program of AASHE, The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. With more than 900 participants in 40 countries, AASHE’s STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in five overall areas: 1) academics 2) engagement, 3) operations, 4) planning and administration, and 5) innovation and leadership.
“Throughout its history, UC Berkeley has stepped up to the challenges of the moment. Today, it continues to take a leadership position by setting ambitious goals and implementing cutting-edge strategies to help solve the enormous carbon reductions and clean energy transitions required,” said Marc Fisher, Vice Chancellor of Administration. “UC Berkeley is committed to working with partners like the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education to make higher education institutions working examples of the change that the world requires now and into the future.”
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, and provide comprehensive organic landscaping techniques. 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 17.12 out of 18 points in sustainability-focused research. Our inventory of academic courses found that UC Berkeley’s sustainability course offerings make up almost 50% of all campus courses, leading us to a near-perfect score in this category. The STARS scores also reflected the strength of campus initiatives weaving social and economic sustainability into academic and campus life.
The university 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. We also maximized points in the Student Educators Program credit, in which our response emphasizes the range and depth of peer-to-peer sustainability outreach and education programs available to students on campus. Finally, UC Berkeley earned perfect scores in three of the four credits measuring diversity and affordability, highlighting the multitude of programs supported by the Division of Equity & Inclusion.
Looking ahead, UC Berkeley aims to continue fostering a sustainable and equitable campus and improving upon STARS areas with potential point gains. For example, one area of opportunity in the Engagement portion of the STARS report was capturing the amount of community service hours completed by students and employees in a given year. Developing a tracking system to record campus volunteering activities will help demonstrate our community’s dedication to public service. In the Operations category, as we achieve our current sustainability goals, we will also improve our STARS rating. In this round of STARS, the campus saw point reductions in the Air & Climate area due to the stricter criteria posed by STARS version 2.2. UC Berkeley’s score in these categories, though, is comparable to other large urban research universities challenged with finding the space and funding for on-site renewable energy generation to meet a large share of campus energy needs. Despite the difficulties, the campus is focusing and planning for the wellbeing of the air and climate, and the decarbonization of the UC Berkeley energy system.
Certified on April 30, 2021, 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 Mikayla Tran, Sustainability Analyst with the Office of Sustainability. The campus’ public STARS report can be found on the STARS website.
The STARS team received invaluable help from the Office of Planning and Analysis, Sponsored Projects Office, Cal Dining, Student Environmental Resource Center, Parking and Transportation, Facilities Services, Human Resources, UC Berkeley Extension, and Ph.D. Candidate Jack Chang as an internal reviewer. Finally, the Office of Sustainability benefited from collaboration with the UC STARS Working Group and the University of California Office of the Chief Investment Officer. Our team is thrilled to have reached STARS Platinum; this was not an easy process, and it would not have been possible without the valuable contributions of several departments across campus.
STARS version 2.2 is the latest version of STARS and was released in June 2019. UC Berkeley aims to maintain our Platinum rating during the next STARS reporting period, though the next edition of the STARS report will likely bring stricter criteria and guidelines. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on improving campus sustainability efforts and modeling best practices for higher education institutions. Our STARS sustainability data and Platinum rating will be considered for ranking later in the year in Sierra‘s Cool Schools ranking and The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges.
AASHE is an association of colleges and universities that are working to create a sustainable future. AASHE’s mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. It provides resources, professional development, and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research. For more information about AASHE, visit www.aashe.org.