Iowa State joins new sustainability initiative

Rebecca Chamberlin

Iowa State is taking sustainability efforts one step further this semester by officially entering the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System program. It is sponsored by the Association for the Advancement in Sustainability for Higher Education, an institution that provides universities in the United States and Canada with resources to develop their campus sustainability.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System is an online database that allows the universities to enter information about their sustainability efforts and receive a rating.

In 2006, the Association for the Advancement in Sustainability for Higher Education partnered with multiple universities, as well as experts such as the Green Building Council, National Wildlife Foundation and other nonprofits, to develop the categories and requirements for the program. It not only encompasses environmental stewardship, but also highlights fiscal responsibility and social justice in the rating system.

“There is a really great breadth and depth of looking at sustainability,” said Merry Rankin, sustainability coordinator at Iowa State.

Rankin has been working since 2010 with the Campus Sustainability Working Group, a group of volunteer staff members, to form a vision for sustainability goals. According to Rankin, Iowa State had been using the tracking program informally as a template and a benchmark system to improve their sustainability efforts and decided to formally submit this semester.

“We wanted to celebrate our commitment to sustainability,” said Rankin.

Universities can use their ratings to compare themselves with other universities and learn about improvements that can be made on their own campuses.

Universities are judged on four categories: operations; education and research; planning, administration and engagement; and innovation. Universities can achieve a bronze, silver, gold or platinum status, which is based on points received in each of the four categories.

The operations category encompasses everything from construction to energy source and consumption to waste. The education and research category is based on the courses and research that focus on sustainability. The planning, administration and engagement category is based on human resource issues, community engagement and diversity. The final category, innovation, is judged on sustainability efforts that are unique to the campus.

Rankin’s goal is to use this as a learning experience to see how Iowa State can do better, rather than as a way to obtain a reward. More than 200 universities have submitted themselves to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, most of them achieving a silver rating. The University of Northern Iowa is an exception, having received a gold rating. The University of Iowa has recently decided to formally submit to the tracking program as well.

Rankin, her interns, the Campus Sustainability Working Group, and student and staff volunteers will be working throughout the semester to gather and enter data, hopefully by the end of the fall semester.