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The Next Sustainability Step: Assessment

by on May 1, 2013

By: Justin Dandoy, Sustainability KC

In the last Sustainability KC blog entry, we tried to get a preliminary definition of “sustainability,” especially how it relates to higher education (https://naspa2.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/kc-wednesday-oh-great-sustainability/) .

In the NASPA Spring 2013 KC Publication (http://www.naspa.org/kc/Spring-2013-KC-Publication-FINAL.pdf), we took that definition a little further.  We began to talk about action, and addressed utilizing a social change approach to tackling the sustainability conversation at our own individual institutions.  In the article, we talked about how that process gets started, which, of course, included assessment.

As we all know, assessment is key in our efforts in higher education.  I can give my colleagues in the NASPA Assessment, Evaluation and Research Knowledge Community a shout out at this point, and hope that you utilize the resources available to you: http://naspa.org/kc/saaer/.   But, if we are still having trouble defining sustainability, how can we assess it?

As we assess sustainability efforts in higher education, there are some wonderful resources out there.  In 2010, the NASPA Sustainability KC took a survey of our members, and in the report, we found that a number of our members where from institutions who were also members of the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).  AASHE has continued to be a great resource and partnership in our NASPA sustainability efforts.  (www.aashe.org)

AASHE has served as a great source of information, not to mention a place for sustainability officers and advocates who are a part of NASPA to network (NASPA members have met regularly at AASHE conferences).  But, in this case, AASHE can also serve as a place to take our sustainability assessment to the next level.  AASHE has a program called the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS), which is a, “transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance” (https://stars.aashe.org/).

If your institution has defined sustainability in a way that suits your college or university, and the appropriate people have been brought together to start the discussion about sustainability at your school, STARS can be an efficient and organized way to move your institution forward with a particular plan.  It provides a framework for assessment, not to mention provides a way to report the data collected.  If your institution is ready to move forward in the sustainability discussion, this can be a wonderful tool to get you on your way.

Once you define it, start the conversation, and then assess your current efforts, you can set new goals and take the next steps.  And that’s where your friendly neighborhood NASPA Region II Sustainability KC can come in.  Once you’re ready to take those next steps, we have a network of schools at your disposal to connect with, not to mention all the information and resources that come along with them, to help you reach your next sustainability goal.

The highest rating an institution has received so far through STARS is a “Gold” rating.  There are institutions right in Region II that are both Gold STARS rated as well as NASPA member institutions, including Carnegie Mellon, Ithaca College, University of Massachusetts Amherst and St. John’s University!  Our hopes are that through our shared network and resources, we can all reach our goals in sustainability, and bring about the social change we need!

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