UConn Now a Platinum and Green University

The annual Earth Week Spring Fling on Fairfield Way is one of the many University-wide efforts to incorporate sustainability into all facets of campus life. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
The annual Earth Week Spring Fling on Fairfield Way is one of the many University-wide efforts to incorporate sustainability into all facets of campus life. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn has gone platinum — as one of the world’s most sustainable campuses.  UConn rates sixth out of over 1,000 universities in 40 countries in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2020 Sustainable Campus Index. UConn is one of only seven institutions meriting platinum status.

“This issue is of the utmost importance to the UConn community, and this is a welcome indication that we’re making progress at meeting our ambitious goals for a sustainable university,” says President Thomas Katsouleas, who last fall announced the planned creation of a central sustainability working group at UConn.

The Sustainable Campus Index ranks colleges and universities overall by institution in 17 sustainability impact areas. This is measured using the Sustainability Tracking & Assessment and Rating System (STARS), a rigorous and comprehensive self-reporting framework developed by AASHE, whose staff also audits the reports.

The rating system looks at sustainability measures implemented in a range of four main areas: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration. UConn’s full 2020 report can be found here.

“Our staff and intern team began collecting data for our STARS report starting as early as February. It takes a lot of coordination and input from stakeholders all across campus to ensure all data is included,” says Patrick McKee, Sustainability Program Manager in UConn’s Office of Sustainability. “One of the primary reasons UConn rose to the Platinum level in 2020 (from our last report in 2018) was the addition of the Environmental Literacy General Education requirement—assuring that all UConn students graduate with at least a basic understanding of environmental issues.  The expansion of the Quantum Biopower food waste recovery program in dining halls also helped us earn some innovation points and improved our score in the waste category.”

Rich Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Sustainability says the achievement has been a goal for many years.

“Achieving Platinum was a total team effort, not only among talented sustainability staff and interns but also with our partners in other departments.  They collaborate with us on sustainability initiatives, strategize with us about how to improve, and provide us with specific subject matter data for STARS,” he says.

UConn continues to set ambitious goals for having an increasingly sustainable campus. New sustainability programs and initiatives implemented since the previous ratings include the expansion of the Recycling Bags program, which included a Sustainability Activity book for all first and second year students to learn more about sustainability as they first set foot on campus, says McKee.

UConn also launched the Institute of the Environment in 2019 to facilitate the University’s portfolio of environmental research along with community-wide activities related to sustainability, says Michael Willig, executive director of the institute and Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Willig also notes that academics and engagement helped set UConn apart in the ratings. UConn is home to many experiential learning and living laboratory opportunities such as the UConn@COP program, UConn Climate Corps, and the Natural Resources and Conservation Academy, among others.

Miller emphasizes the importance for UConn to continue leading by example: “I know many students, faculty members, and staff at UConn take pride in achieving STARS Platinum, as they should. Their commitment to making sustainability an essential component of their job, class, research, or student activities helps make sustainability part of the fabric of UConn. Our Platinum rating reflects everyone’s role.”

Keep up with the latest sustainability news and to learn about some of the green campus measures already in place by following the UConn Office of Sustainability on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) or by downloading the UConn Sustainability Activity Book.  Get involved by enrolling your office in the Green Office Certification Program, keep up with the President’s Working Group on Sustainability, join student organizations like EcoHusky, or try using UConn Cycle Share or ZipCar for transportation.