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Furman reaches for the STARS and grabs the gold

Shi Center for Sustainability

Sustainability is a word that’s bandied about so much around college campuses that it loses its meaning. How exactly does one know if a campus is truly implementing best practices for sustainability?

AASHE holds the answer in its STARS program, a transparent, self-rating system which is the most widely recognized report card in the world for grading sustainability performance in higher education. Boasting more than 650 participants on six continents, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ measures performance across four different metrics: 1) operations, 2) academics, 3) engagement, and 4) planning/administration.

AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, has recently awarded Furman the coveted “Gold Rating” in recognition of its sustainability achievements. The news was celebrated in March outside Duke Library with a dessert social featuring a gold, star-shaped cake and remarks by President Elizabeth Davis and the data collection team.

Says Yancey Fouché, associate director of Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability, “Only 94 institutions reported under the latest, most stringent version of STARS; and of those, 38 achieved a gold rating. That’s quite an accomplishment for Furman, and even more noteworthy since Furman is among just a few institutions in the Southeast to reach the gold rating.”

Indeed, amid a pool of mostly larger, state-funded institutions, Furman, Emory University, Florida Gulf Coast University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and UNC-Greensboro were the only Southeast universities achieving the Gold Rating under the latest reporting standards.

Compiling the data for STARS is no small feat. Leading the charge, Fouché enlisted three student fellows to painstakingly gather statistics across the entire campus, Kristian Hajny ’15, and freshmen Logan Richardson and Ying Yang. Together the team logged more than 1,000 hours on the effort, compiling and distilling qualitative and quantitative data from 50 campus contacts in support of 72 multifaceted STARS credits.

In remarks he made during the announcement of the news, Hajny says the Gold Rating is an “achievement worth celebrating.” To collar the rating, Furman earned 69 percent of all possible STARS points.

Says Hajny, “One area in which Furman has done particularly well is academics. For one academic credit we calculated that 68 percent of undergraduate courses last year provided content about sustainability principles, including at least one course in every department. Furman also excels in engagement. A STARS credit in this field looked at community service. We were able to report that roughly 2,000 of Furman’s 2,800 students participated in community service last year, contributing a total of 42,000 hours of volunteer labor.”

Says Fouché, “Furman’s high scores in academics and engagement reflect our distinctive community-based, and interdisciplinary approach to sustainability teaching, research, and partnerships.”

Hajny, Yang, and Richardson also noted that Furman made significant headway in energy and planning. Furman slashed energy usage by more than 20 million kilowatt hours, while increasing building area on campus by nearly a million gross square feet since 2005. And Furman’s master plan, “Sustainable Furman,” boosted planning credits with its strategies touching multiple aspects of campus life.

AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser says, “STARS was developed by the campus sustainability community to provide high standards for recognizing campus sustainability efforts. Furman has demonstrated a substantial commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Gold Rating and is to be congratulated for their efforts.”

So the next time the words “sustainable campus” are tossed out for discussion, know that Furman has something to hang its hat on—it’s gold, and has five points.

For more information, Furman’s STARS report is publicly available on the STARS website. Or contact Yancey Fouché in the Shi Center for Sustainability, (864) 294-3656.

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