Nearly a decade of campuswide cooperation has helped the University of Nebraska–Lincoln obtain a gold rating for its sustainability practices.
Announced April 23, the university earned gold through the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, a national university- and college-centric program organized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Nebraska is one of 133 higher education institutions to date to have earned the gold rating.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has participated in the program since earning a bronze rating in 2014. Nebraska advanced to silver in 2016 and has showed steady improvement to reach the gold standard.
“Our Office of Sustainability has been working to achieve this gold rating for nearly a decade, and I am proud of our campus community for the continued dedication to our sustainability efforts,” said Jim Jackson, associate vice chancellor for university operations. “The support of our many campus partners has been critical to our success.”
The campuswide commitment is organized by the Office of Sustainability and spans some 50 individuals who report data that contributes to the STARS assessment. It also includes growing involvement by colleges, departments and units, as well as students, instructors and staff who support the sustainability programming by volunteering, attending events and choosing to participate in recycling efforts.
“This gold rating is not only attributed to our efforts within the Office of Sustainability,” said Morgan Hartman, sustainability coordinator for the university. “It’s a reflection of the diligent work of the entire UNL community to help move us forward and foster a culture of sustainability.”
The STARS rating system features five areas of focus — Academics, Engagement, Operations, Planning and Administration, and Innovation and Leadership.
The university advanced to the gold rating due to a continued commitment to integrating sustainability into campus operations. Principal improvements include continued upgrades by Dining Services, including investments into biodigesters, and University Operations’ collaborative efforts to sustainably maintain and operate campus buildings.
Other important factors that led to the gold rating include:
Formation of the Environment, Sustainability and Resilience Council, a body tasked with leading progress toward sustainability goals;
Continued emphasis on creating a culture of inclusive excellence through additional diversity and inclusion programming;
Adoption of the new All in the Hall program as the university’s standard for recycling; and
Increased collaboration with the University of Nebraska Foundation, which allowed the university to pursue two new credits related to sustainability investments.
In academics alone, the university’s score advanced by more than two points.
“That improvement is a credit to our faculty, instructors and academic leaders helping us better account for sustainability-related teaching,” Hartman said.
Additional initiatives that contributed to the rating are the university earning a Bicycle Friendly Business platinum award; and Landscape Services’ four-star accreditation with the Professional Grounds Management Society.
Looking ahead, Hartman said the university’s goal is to continue to meet the gold STARS rating and make progress toward the program’s elite Platinum award — which currently includes just 12 institutions.
“Platinum is our ultimate goal, but we remain focused on making continued progress on goals outlined in UNL’s Environment, Sustainability and Resilience Master Plan,” Hartman said. “Our combined work has ushered in a new era of sustainability for this university, and that’s momentum that we want to keep building upon.”
Students, faculty and staff who want to get more involved with sustainability programs on campus can learn more through the Office of Sustainability’s website. The office also offers a monthly newsletter and supports the Chancellor’s Environment, Sustainability, and Resilience Commission’s regular Lunch and Learn discussion series during the spring and fall semesters.