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Northwestern University
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Northwestern Receives Silver Rating for Sustainability

Northwestern is gaining increasing recognition for the University’s commitment to fostering environmental and ethical stewardship. This year Northwestern completed its first submission for a sustainability ranking through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability’s Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). The University was ranked as a STARS Silver Institution, a designation shared with Yale University, Tulane University, Wellesley College, Tufts University, and others.

Northwestern received 63 out of 64 possible points in the silver category, and current sustainability initiatives, including the release of the Strategic Sustainability Plan, will position the University to achieve a higher ranking by year end 2021.

AASHE is the leading association for sustainability in higher education, with more than 900 member institutions in the U.S. and Canada. AASHE serves as the voice for best-practices, advancement, and ranking for collegiate sustainability. To successfully rank colleges and universities on their sustainability efforts, AASHE devised STARS as “a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.”

The STARS application contains more than 200 pages of sustainability performance data, including everything from electricity usage data to information about local and inclusive purchasing practices. Completing this application was no small undertaking, and students, faculty, and staff from multiple departments helped gather the information needed. More than 15 schools and departments contributed over the course of 6 months, making it possible for Northwestern to receive its first STARS rating.

Rankings such as STARS provide national visibility for Northwestern’s efforts, helping to establish the institution as a leader in sustainability.

Breakdown of Northwestern’s STARS Silver Institution Score

Recognition and Scoring 
Rating  Minimum Score
Platinum 85
Gold 65
Silver 45
Bronze 25

The STARS application collects information in five categories – academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration. The overall STARS score is based on the percentage of applicable points it earns across these four categories. Institutions can also earn up to four bonus points for new or innovative practices not covered in these categories. Northwestern’s scores in each category are broken down below. For more details, view the full report on the STARS website.

Academics – 29 out of 48 possible points

The academics section of the STARS application focuses on curriculum and research at the University. This section requests information on academic courses and their learning outcomes, the number of graduates from sustainability programs, and how the University uses the campus as a living laboratory. It also includes information on the University’s support for research and the extent that research results are made publicly available.

Engagement – 33 out of 41 possible points

The engagement section measures the reach of programs, publications, and events within the University community. It also covers the University’s community partnerships, collaboration with its host city, and community service performed within the community.

Operations – 32 out of 50 possible points

The operations section of the application is one of the larger sections, covering all aspects facilities management at the University. This includes everything from the power mix that fuels University buildings to the amount of local food served in campus dining facilities. The air and climate subsection requests an in-depth report of the University’s greenhouse gas emissions, a summary of which can be found here.

Planning and Administration – 25 out of 32 points

The planning and administration section of the application focuses on the University’s long-term commitment to sustainability as demonstrated through official planning documents and the coordination and governance structure of the University’s sustainability program. This section also addresses the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and to the health and well-being of the campus community. In addition, this section requests information on the University’s investments, specifically focusing on divestment from fossil fuels.

Innovation – 4 points

The innovation section allows applicants to showcase the unique sustainability initiatives on their campuses. Northwestern’s application featured the ISEN Flex Lab, the Northwestern Sustainability Fund, the Change Makers program run by the Women’s Center, and the Northwestern University Solar Car Team, NUsolar.

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