Duke awarded gold in sustainability

Duke is one of nine schools to receive a Gold STARS rating for its sustainability efforts.

The University received a score of 65.74 out of 100 in the new system created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The AASHE considered three main areas in rating Duke: education and research; operations; and planning, administration and engagement. Duke received scores of 61.35, 49.48 and 74.39, respectively, and received the maximum of four points for innovation, which were added to Duke’s average in calculating its final score.

Through STARS­—the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System—universities in the United States and Canada can compare their sustainability efforts against their peer institutions. A school can receive a rating of Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze. Out of the 39 schools that have thus far received certification, no universities have scored Platinum, and Silver and Bronze designations were awarded to 20 and 9 schools, respectively.

“Higher education plays a vital role in ensuring that people have an understanding of the interdependencies between environmental, social and economic forces and the skills and abilities to meet sustainability challenges,” STARS Program Coordinator Jillian Buckholz wrote in a March 1 e-mail.

Casey Roe, program coordinator for the Duke Sustainability Program, said she started working on a report for submission in October with Tavey Capps, environmental sustainability director, and three graduate students.

“What we really liked about STARS is that it was basically developed by our peer institutions,” Roe said, noting that the University especially appreciated the system’s transparency. “It was a great way for us to look comprehensively at all our sustainability programs.”

Buckholz added that the assessment’s use of an absolute grading scale helps eliminate the problems associated with “moving targets” and facilitates cooperation among institutions.

“A long way to go”

Duke scored well, but the University still has significant room for improvement, Roe said.

The University can serve more locally produced food, encourage clean transportation and monitor recycling and use of land and water, she noted.

Two of Duke’s lowest scores were for sustainability-focused and sustainability-related courses, which both fall under the curriculum subcategory of education and research. The University scored 1.29 and 0.21 out of 10, respectively.

But Roe said this does not mean Duke’s curriculum is deficient in sustainability education. Just as students can search for classes based on whether they include service learning or use iPods, Roe believes the University would benefit from the creation of a similar label for sustainability-related courses.

“There could be some courses out there we’re not getting credit for because it’s hard to count them,” Roe said.

Roe added that the University is attempting to find new ways to include sustainability in existing courses, rather than creating new ones. That way, she said, students can learn about sustainability while taking courses that correspond to their interests. To this end, Duke’s Campus Sustainability Committee held a two-day workshop last year designed to help faculty incorporate sustainability into their courses.

Junior Ben Soltoff, co-president of Duke’s Environmental Alliance, said he believes the gold rating shows Duke is on the right track when it comes to sustainability.

“I think [it] provides well-deserved recognition for Duke’s extensive sustainability efforts,” he wrote in an e-mail. “However, it is important to consider the rating as an acknowledgement of a continuing process rather than an award for a completed accomplishment.”

Soltoff cited the conversion of the East Campus Steam Plant from coal to natural gas as an example of Duke’s steps towards greater sustainability. Still, he thinks Duke “lacks a widespread campus culture of sustainability and environmental awareness.”

“Although Duke has come very far in the past few years, it still has a long way to go,” he said.


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