Northeastern receives Silver ranking in STARS report
Northeastern University received its first Silver rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, report submittal. The Stars Report is overseen by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE, which establishes sustainability criteria for universities and colleges. Universities self-report their data and efforts and receive a score from 0 to 100, which translates to a ranking of bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. Northeastern scored 61 points, narrowly missing gold status by four points.
The Climate Justice and Sustainability Hub, which was established last year as part of the Planning, Real Estate, and Facilities (PREF) Division, completed Northeastern’s self-reporting process and submitted data for a score for the first time. An award of Silver allows us to evaluate our sustainability efforts and provides us with specific areas for improvement that will help set goals for the future. The current score is valid until April of 2026.
“As our first rating, this STARs report gives us a helpful baseline to benchmark our efforts against ourselves, as well as our peer institutions,” says Leah Bamberger, Executive Director of the Climate Justice and Sustainability Hub. “I’m proud of our first score and am confident in three years we’ll be able to reach even higher.”
The STARS report is a holistic report that looks at sustainability through an environmental, economic, and social lens. It is divided into four categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration. There is also a bonus section called Innovation and Leadership. Under each category, there are individual credits that focus on a variety of topics. For example, in the academic category, Northeastern received a perfect score of 4 out of 4 for the “immersive experience” topic, which examined whether a university had adequate immersive programming related to sustainability. Northeastern offers dialogues, co-ops and the three seas program for marine biology students.
Northeastern University’s commitment to sustainability was reflected in achieving perfect scores in 18 categories and scored high for topics related to transportation, waste, and diversity. Megan Curtis-Murphy, Director of Campus Sustainability & Engagement at the Hub, led the reporting process, but it was ultimately a university-wide effort. Data was collected from the university Human Resources Department, the Registrar’s Office, Planning, Real Estate & Facilities Department, and more.
Highlights from the report:
- 48% of waste is diverted from trash and 97.36% of construction and demolition waste is recycled.
- The Hub is currently developing a Climate Justice Action Plan along with community organizations ACE and One Square World
- Northeastern’s Level II Arboretum helps fight climate change and mitigates the heat island effect.
- Student organizations such as HEAT, Garden Club, Sunrise Northeastern and more were highlighted for engagement in student life.
- Northeastern scored well in the “Diversity and Affordability” topic and reported that 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that Northeastern is an inclusive community that accepts and encourages those of different cultures and languages in a Diversity and Equity Campus Climate Survey.
- The Hub hosts numerous events over the year including the annual Sustainability and Bike Fair, Earth Month events and the upcoming Tunnel Art competition celebration.
The Silver ranking presents an opportunity for the university to continue growing and improving upon itself. Many of the Hub’s ongoing projects will take time to come to fruition and will be reflected in the next rating. For example, Northeastern is planning to install solar panels on campus and is starting to connect with Boston’s district steam energy utility to heat five buildings on campus by 2024, which will reduce our natural gas usage and carbon emissions. As of 2021, the university has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 27% and since 2020, it has been offsetting 100% of its building emissions.
“The reporting process helped us identify areas where we are doing really well, like incorporating sustainability into our operations and embedding DEI initiatives on campus,” Curtis-Murphy said. “It also helps us focus on areas where we can improve or need better data collection, like developing strategies to help faculty include sustainability in more courses.”
For some topics in STARS, the lack of data made reporting difficult. For example, Northeastern did not submit data for “Cleaning and Janitorial Purchasing” because there was no data available at the time of reporting. Using STARS as a framework, the Hub worked closely with our contracting team to include reporting requirements in the new contract that will allow the university to submit for this category in the future.
Though just 4 points away from gold, a Silver puts the University in good standing relative to our peers in Boston. For comparison with other Boston areas schools, Boston University has been awarded Silver for each of its submittals since 2011, earning 53.67 points on its latest report. Tufts University earned its first gold with 69.61 points in 2022 but got 3 Silver scores in the past. Harvard does not report with STARS and Boston College was awarded gold with 65.2 points in 2022.
Written by Renée Abbott, April 14th, 2023