WKU receives silver rating for sustainability efforts

Kayla Swanson

One year after participating in a national sustainability rating program for the first time, WKU rose from a bronze to a silver rating.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking and Rating System, or AASHE STARS, is a tool for universities and colleges to see where they stand when it comes to sustainability.

WKU received 49.42 points this year — a silver rating — 11 points higher than last year.

Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan-Downing said the silver rating isn’t good enough for WKU.

“Silver’s great, but there are a lot of opportunities for us to improve and become a more sustainable university,” Ryan-Downing said.

Last year WKU received 38.42 points, earning a bronze rating, which Ryan-Downing said was a great start.

“That’s really good, but more importantly the exercise was really good,” she said. “Going through all those criteria and seeing where we’re at and what we could do better is immensely helpful in setting priorities and finding opportunities to be more sustainable.”

Some of the practices WKU does, such as using napkins made from recyclable materials, couldn’t be counted last year, because there was no data available.

To solve that problem, Gordon Baylis, vice president for Research and Development, sponsored a graduate assistant to help with the data collection.

Greenville, S.C. alumnus Mark Santoro, said in an email he worked with all departments at WKU to collect the data for the AASHE STARS submission.

“Many of the department heads were willing to sit down with me, and I really enjoyed having the chance to work with so many people at the university,” Santoro said.

Ryan-Downing said she’s pleased with the silver rating, but not satisfied.

“We want gold,” she said. “There are a lot of institutions that have a sliver rating, but there are not very many that have gold.”

Housing and Residence Life and the Office of Sustainability are working together to complete two new initiatives that could help WKU reach a gold rating.

Programs such as a student-created shared interest community based around sustainability and a display of a sustainable residence hall rooms are planned to add points to next year’s submission.

President Gary Ransdell said a good AASHE STARS rating is important because the university should set the example for responsible use of our resources in our environment.

Ransdell also said students should be learning what WKU does to promote sustainable practices.

“Good sustainable behavior has to be a part of the learning environment for our students,” he said.