Lehigh submitted its eighth report to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS) in February and has received a gold rating for the second year in a row, with a score of 72.75. This is an increase of 10.58%, or 6.96 points, from last year.
STARS is a tracking and rating system specifically designed for higher education institutions to track their sustainability performance. Universities earn points to achieve a bronze, silver, gold or platinum rating by demonstrating efforts in sustainability in areas such as academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership.
Lehigh’s Office of Sustainability has reported Lehigh’s sustainability efforts to AASHE since 2015. AASHE empowers higher education faculty, administrators, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation. When the first report was published, Lehigh received a bronze rating with a score of 36.75. Since then, the overall score trend shows that sustainability has become increasingly part of Lehigh's culture and operations.
As of April 2022, AASHE’s STARS program had more than 900 participants in 40 countries and 50 U.S. states/territories. To date, approximately 37 percent of participating schools have achieved a gold rating, which symbolizes a high level of institutional sustainability. Overall, Lehigh has the second-highest STARS score among private non-profit doctoral-granting institutions with an enrollment of 5,000 to 9,999 students.
“Last year, Lehigh reached a new sustainability threshold by achieving a gold rating for the first time. Now we must continue pushing the envelope with the momentum we’ve garnered, ” said Audrey McSain, Lehigh's sustainability director. “We are in the second implementation year of Lehigh’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 and have recently released a Climate Action Strategy that puts us on the path to reach carbon neutrality by 2040. We take our responsibility to be a model sustainable campus and leader seriously, and are committed to a vision of an inclusive Lehigh community where sustainability is an integral part of the institutional ethos.”
The STARS reporting process is cyclical. Every year, the Office of Sustainability starts collecting data from relevant departments and offices across the university in June and July. In September, the data is reviewed by the Office of Sustainability and edited, if necessary. Come January, the entire report is reviewed by select members of the Lehigh Sustainability Council for accuracy and compliance with AASHE requirements. In February, the report is presented to Lehigh senior leadership and approved by the President before official submission to STARS. After submission, any additional necessary edits or updates requested by AASHE are made in March, with final completion and certification in April.
“As a graduate student, having the opportunity to work on Lehigh’s STARS report has been very valuable,” said Laura Marsiglio, sustainability metrics and reporting graduate assistant. “While compiling the report, I learned a lot about what comprehensive sustainability looks like for an institution. I now have a greater appreciation of the collaborative efforts by departments across campus, which are necessary for achieving Lehigh’s sustainability goals.”
Lehigh consistently outperforms most reporting peer institutions, scoring on average 22% higher overall. While Lehigh excels in many areas of the report, the university shines the most in the “operations” category, scoring 66% higher than the average of reporting peer institutions. Lehigh’s strong performance in this category is a testament to the university’s efforts to improve sustainability in buildings, food and dining, grounds maintenance, purchasing, and transportation. Lehigh also excels in the innovation and leadership category, earning full points for several years in a row. This category recognizes institutions that are seeking innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and demonstrating sustainability leadership in ways that are not otherwise captured in STARS.
Lehigh excels in many areas of the report and performs better than most reporting peer institutions in the majority of metrics. Compared to other institutions, Lehigh shines the most in the “operations” category, which reflects the university’s efforts that contribute to sustainability in buildings, food and dining, grounds maintenance, purchasing and transportation. Lehigh also excels in the innovation and leadership category, as it earned full points for several years in a row. That category recognizes institutions that are seeking innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and demonstrating sustainability leadership in ways that are not otherwise captured in STARS.
Achieving, maintaining, and improving upon a gold rating is a major accomplishment for sustainability at Lehigh, but sights are set on a bigger prize. With the adoption of Lehigh’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030, released in October 2020, there is a well-defined path for Lehigh to achieve a platinum certification by 2030.
Learn more about Lehigh’s 2022 Gold STARS report here.