Penn State implements new sustainability tracking system

January 28, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- As national and global attention to environmental sustainability increases, many in higher education, industry and government are unsure of how to actually quantify and measure progress in this new area. Penn State is taking a leadership role as a charter participant in the STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) program, a new sustainability tracking system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). This year, data will be collected in key sustainability "credit areas," spanning student life, curriculum, research, operations, planning, administration and outreach.

"STARS will provide Penn State with a key missing link in our efforts," said Erik Foley, director of the Campus Sustainability Office, "comprehensive baseline sustainability performance data. AASHE developed the tool over three years and tested it on 70 institutions, so we feel it is a well-tested, rigorous tool for supporting Penn State?s sustainability efforts."

As a charter participant in STARS, Penn State will have an improved ability to measure progress, make better informed resource allocation decisions, benchmark performance with other similar institutions and be a leader in the development of sustainability metrics. Early participation also will position Penn State to be an active contributor to the evolution of STARS, which is expected to evolve as universities continuously expand the adoption of innovative sustainable practices.

"From global recognition for our research efforts to award-winning sustainability-focused outreach activities to our exemplary resource-efficient operations, Penn State has long been a leader in sustainability in teaching, research and service," said Penn State President Graham Spanier. "STARS will allow us to better monitor our progress and tell a unified story about our achievements. The STARS process will touch every aspect of Penn State and I applaud this effort to further strengthen our sustainability commitment."

STARS features "credit areas" in three main categories: education and research, operations and planning, and administration and engagement. The Penn State Campus Sustainability Office is spearheading a wide-ranging data-collection and reporting process, collaborating with partners in academics and research, outreach, student affairs, human resources, auxiliary and business services and the physical plant.

"We will be focusing this year on University Park though we are making the framework available to all campus locations," said Foley. "Because STARS is new and the process so comprehensive, we elected to pilot it on the University Park campus before rolling it out to all locations. However, other individual campus locations can access the STARS tool at AASHE's Web site. We would just ask that they let us know so we can coordinate efforts."

STARS is a voluntary, self-reporting framework for gauging relative progress toward sustainability for colleges and universities. STARS is designed to:

  • Provide a guide for advancing sustainability in all sectors of higher education.
  • Enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions by establishing a common standard of measurement for sustainability in higher education.
  • Create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability.
  • Facilitate information sharing about higher education sustainability practices and performance.
  • Build a stronger, more diverse campus sustainability community.

For more information about STARS, visit online. For questions about Penn State's participation in STARS, contact Foley, director of the Campus Sustainability Office, at (814) 865-2714 or

Last Updated January 29, 2010