University of California, Merced, earned a silver rating under the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) initiative of the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education, a program that tracks the sustainability efforts of campuses across North America.
The STARS self-assessment program is the result of an effort to develop a standardized instrument to measure progress toward sustainability goals.
Campus staff, faculty and students have instituted many programs and practices, from small steps like the water station where people can refill bottles instead of buying more plastic containers, to the campus’s Triple Zero pledge to consume zero net energy, produce zero landfill waste and produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
Some of the campus’s efforts include:
- UC Merced Water Battle, an annual residence-hall competition organized by students to increase awareness about water conservation, which earned a Brower Youth Award from the Earth Island Institute;
- annual recycle and reuse program upon move-out, in which all the items left over in the residence halls — from clothing and nonperishable food to plastic, glass and aluminum refuse — are culled for reuse or recycling;
- the campus’s composting program, turning food waste into usable soil amendment;
- the campus’s “green power partnership” with the Environmental Protection Agency;
- OZZI recyclable food container program, recently honored for its ability to reduce food-packaging waste;
- senior engineering capstone projects in which students design real-world engineering solutions for the sustainability needs of businesses, government agencies and nonprofits;
- and LEED platinum certification for Dining Commons Expansion project, as well as LEED certification on all campus buildings.
The campus is a model of leadership in sustainability, from its design and construction, to its research in solar energy, as well as climate, soil and water concerns.
The campus’s efforts have earned it many awards and accolades, including the American Institute of Architects’ COTE Top 10 Award; being named as one of the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools; a place in the Alliance to Save Energy’s Campus Conservation Nationals; being named the UC Sustainability Champion winner; and winning the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award.
Earning an AASHE STARS rating reflects a campus wide commitment to gathering data throughout the year from all campus departments, and a lot of work by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.
“Achieving a STARS rating was one of the committee's goals this year. It was a lot of work, but worth it,” said Special Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Administration Jim Genes. “The STARS rating is a good tool for communicating the campus's sustainability accomplishments and creating an incentive for continued improvement.”
The silver rating is good for three years, and puts UC Merced in the company of 124 other institutions that earned the same rating, out of 400 registered participants in the U.S. and Canada.