WKU earns bronze ranking in sustainability assessment

Michael McKay

In WKU’s first time participating in a nation-wide sustainability assessment, the university achieved a bronze ranking and officials said they’re already looking to earn silver for next year.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (AASHE STARS) ranks how sustainable universities are by assigning points to the practices of different areas of the university.

The participating university earns a rank from bronze to platinum based on the number of points it receives. There are 159 STARS-rated schools, according to AASHE’s website.

This year, WKU received a bronze rating with 38.42 points from AASHE STARS. The cutoff for silver begins at 45 points.

John Osborne, vice president for Campus Services and Facilities, said the assessment would allow WKU to improve on its sustainability.

“It is the guide and the benchmark from which we aspire to use to embellish and improve our performance and our activities,” Osborne said.

The grounds section of WKU’s STARS assessment was the only one to earn full credit for its practices. This includes composting, using native plants in landscaping and being a Tree Campus USA, according to the report.

Josh Twardowski, manager of campus services for Facilities Management, said that even though his department earned all of their AASHE STARS points, they would still find new ways to innovate.

“The industry always has new things to offer,” Twardowski said.

Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan-Downing said the goal is to raise WKU’s rank to silver in the next year.

“We feel fairly confident that for the next reporting period that we could increase our score significantly,” Ryan-Downing said.

Ryan-Downing said that getting the documentation and proof to AASHE STARS was a factor that caused the university to lose points.

“We know we’re doing this particular initiative, but we don’t really have any supporting document as evidence, and so in those areas we can’t earn the credit,” Ryan-Downing said. “That’s a little bit frustrating because we’re doing it, but we can’t document it.”

An example of this is the usage of napkins made from recyclable materials in dining areas, Ryan-Downing said. Although WKU uses these napkins, the university can’t earn the points without documentation proving this.

Ryan-Downing said awareness of the program would help other departments to get the data together to submit to AASHE STARS next year.

“Now that we’ve had our first report, it’s out there. I think people are recognizing ‘Oh, this is something we definitely want to contribute to — we want to be recognized in our department for doing this particular thing,’” Ryan-Downing said.