Campus & Community / News

University achieves award for sustainability program

A DU staffer fills a campus vehicle with compressed natural gas (CNG). DU was one of the first universities in the nation to install a CNG filling station on campus. Photo: Jeff Haessler

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has given DU a Gold Award for the University’s ongoing sustainability efforts. DU is one of 13 schools nationwide to achieve gold recognition. 

AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Ratings System (STARS) awards points in three main areas: education and research, operations, and planning and innovation.

STARS is the only system of its kind that involves public reporting of comprehensive information related to an institution’s sustainability performance. STARS provides institutions with a standardized assessment tool that allows evaluation of the progress toward sustainability, covering 139 environmental, economic and social indicators.

The University of Denver has been building on its commitment to sustainability since 2007, when Chancellor Robert Coombe signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. The action led to the establishment of the DU Sustainability Committee, which is comprised of students, administrators, faculty and staff.

The council developed a sustainability plan and a commitment for DU to become climate neutral by 2050.

“The University is delighted to receive the recognition of a STARS gold rating. It is the result of months of diligent data collection and review, and it is a powerful validation of our continuing efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” Coombe says. “We know there is much work ahead. We are incorporating sustainability in our educational program at both the graduate and undergraduate levels and we continue to monitor and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and reduce waste. We have a long-term commitment to achieving our environmental, economic and social sustainability goals.”

Social sustainability is a key component to the STARS program, emphasizing not just environmental sustainability but also social efforts that ensure economic and social equity so that everyone can take part in a global process. 

Fred Cheever, associate dean of DU’s Sturm College of Law, is a founding member of the DU Sustainability Council and its current chair. He says the award is the result of a collaborative effort.

“STARS is the most comprehensive assessment of university sustainability efforts developed so far. It deals with every aspect of how we practice and teach sustainability,” Cheever says. “DU’s gold rating is a testament to the work of literally hundreds of members of the DU community who have invested their time and effort to help us all live and teach our best values.”

Linda Kosten, DU’s assistant provost for planning and budgeting and a Sustainability Council member who helped coordinate the reporting of scores of contributors, says the drive for STARS gold began in 2009, when DU committed to climate neutrality.

“We spent a lot of time working from the STARS framework to develop real, structured data to support our reporting,” she says. “This is really a tool for institutions to develop ideas on how we can continue to improve.”

Her colleague on the council, geography Assistant Professor Rebecca Powell, says securing a gold award surpassed her expectations.

“It was truly rewarding to see how many people came together and contributed. And then when we collected all this data and stood back, we realized how far we had come as an institution,” she says. “This is a great starting point. The framework of STARS gives us an organization a structure and helps us start planning for what’s next.”

Sustainability initiatives on campus have included the campus-wide implementation of single-stream recycling, food composting in residence halls, lighting retrofits, a vehicle fleet running on compressed natural gas, bike sharing, an undergraduate minor in sustainability studies, the addition of “green” parking spaces that reward drivers of cleaner running vehicles, and the purchase of carbon offsets and energy derived from wind turbines and other sustainable sources.

DU received points for innovative social sustainability programs including Daniels College of Business initiatives in microfinance and the construction of a net-zero energy house — a home that draws no net energy off the power grid. 

AASHE is an association of colleges and universities working to create a sustainable future, with a mission to help higher education lead the sustainability transformation. Some 280 colleges and universities across the country have submitted or are working on STARS reports.

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