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Greenville Business Magazine

Clemson Earns Prestigious Rating For Sustainability Achievements

Photo: Clemson University student Jessica Plaunt recycles some plastic and cardboard at Clemson’s Kite Hill Recycling Center.

Clemson University has earned a STARS Silver rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.

Caye Drapcho, associate professor of biosystems engineering and co-chair of the Clemson University Sustainability Commission (CUSC), said the highly regarded Silver ranking is an important benchmark in the University’s long-term efforts to become a leader in sustainability.

“Participating in this sustainability assessment is an important step for Clemson,” she said. “We now are able to identify the areas that we can improve upon to not only achieve a Gold or Platinum rating in the next assessment, but more importantly to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030 – a goal set forth by our Sustainability Action Plan published in 2011.”

The comprehensive assessment identified 44 unique initiatives that could be pursued over the next three to 10 years. Some examples include incentives for developing more sustainability courses, improving community outreach efforts, increasing the use of solar power, continuing to ensure that new construction is LEED-certified and reducing the number of cars on campus while increasing the use of electric vehicles in the University fleet.

Collecting the data for the exhaustive report was no easy task. The CUSC painstakingly researched dozens of categories of sustainability initiatives and performance to complete the evaluation, and the resulting information was well worth the effort, said CUSC Co-Chair Victor Shelburne, emeritus professor of forestry and environmental conservation, who led the effort to coordinate the assessment.

“The data collection for this effort involved numerous faculty, staff and students over a six month period in 2018 and reached into all aspects of the University’s life and operations,” said Shelburne. “The success of that data collection was due to the enthusiasm and effort by these many people. Our accomplishments in sustainability to date are now well-quantified and will provide a basis for a more sustainable University in the future.”

With more than 800 participants in 30 countries, AASHE’s STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in five overall areas: 1) academics 2) engagement, 3) operations, 4) planning and administration, and 5) innovation and leadership.

“STARS was developed by the campus sustainability community to provide high standards for recognizing campus sustainability efforts,” said AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser. “Clemson has demonstrated a substantial commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Silver Rating and is to be congratulated for their efforts.”

Unlike other rating or ranking systems, this program is open to all institutions of higher education, and the criteria that determine a STARS rating are transparent and accessible to anyone. Because STARS is a program based on credits earned, it allows for both internal comparisons as well as comparisons with similar institutions.

“As the land-grant University for South Carolina, sustainability has always been a foundation of our teaching, research and outreach programs,” said Clemson Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Robert Jones. “This has been our goal from the early days of this University when Clemson taught sustainable agricultural practices. We are now engaged with the world to build an awareness of Climate Change and how we can prevent its worsening effects on our planet.”

Clemson’s STARS report is publicly available on the STARS website.