Northwestern receives STARS Gold rating for sustainability efforts


Kresge Hall, 1880 Campus Drive. One of Kresge Hall’s notable features includes a 254-solar panel configuration on the roof of the building.

Ellen O'Brien, Reporter

Northwestern received a Gold rating for environmental sustainability this spring from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System allows colleges and universities to assess their sustainability performance through a self-reporting system. After submitting their reports, institutions receive a STARS rating based on their scores in five categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations, Planning & Administration and Innovation & Leadership.

A Gold rating is the second-highest in the framework. In order to earn Gold, an institution must receive a minimum overall score of 65. The highest STARS rating is Platinum, a status achieved by only seven universities, including Stanford University and the University of New Hampshire.

The previous report NU submitted to STARS in 2017 received a Silver rating. Since then, the University has taken steps toward increasing sustainability efforts, including the publication of the Strategic Sustainability Plan.

Greg Kozak, director of sustainability, said the development of the Strategic Sustainability Plan is one element that enabled NU to climb from a Silver to Gold STARS rating.

“Our improvement is really a testament to the entire University,” Kozak said. “It’s sometimes difficult for various departments and staff to understand how exactly they’re tied to sustainability, but really their work is critical to the advancement of sustainability at the University.”

Kozak said one big sustainability initiative currently taking place at NU includes a long-term strategic partnership with an external energy service provider. Another, he added, is aiding Illinois’s transition to a greener economy through a partnership with Clearway Energy — the largest solar developer in Illinois.

Sarah Tulga, sustainability program coordinator, served as the liaison for the STARS report submission. In her role, she said she was responsible for coordinating the report across the University, which included enlisting the help of over 45 different departments.

“This was an institution-wide collaborative effort,” Tulga said. “I think it highlights a lot of the work that different departments do, like diversity, equity, access, education and community service. Those are all key components to make our community a more sustainable place.”

McCormick junior Lauren Simitz, Associated Student Government’s Sustainability Chair, said her committee contributed to the categories of Operations and Innovation & Leadership for the STARS rating. She said this was done through its efforts to make campus buildings more energy-efficient and by creating the first sustainability grant for student groups and organizations at NU.

Simitz said ASG’s Sustainability Committee acts as a link between the 31 student sustainability groups on campus and University administration. The committee is currently focusing its efforts on sustainability projects in the areas of academics, engagement and operations, she said.

“It’s exciting that Northwestern is getting a lot more acclaim for being a sustainable university,” Simitz said. “I think part of academic leadership and that prestige is being sustainable in a way. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re going to continue collaborating with these different entities, so we can be set up for Platinum.”

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