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Saint Michael's earns prestigious sustainability rating

11.29.17
By: Mark Tarnacki
stars logo with SMC name

The official logo for "Silver" STARS certification is above. Below, Heather Lynch, sustainability director, and a file photo showing the April 2015 dedication of a solar array on the edge of campus, with Lynch and the late Fr. Mike Cronogue visible in the crowd.

Over the past decade, Saint Michael’s College’s environment-oriented efforts toward increased sustainability have expanded greatly, and now a prestigious national rating system has recognized those achievements.

Saint Michael’s has earned a “Silver” rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) through its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education. Heather Lynch, the College’s sustainability director, says STARS “has become the premier rating for sustainability of institutions of higher education.”

Notable Saint Michael’s efforts in the past decade that Lynch has guided have included addressing climate change, waste diversion, energy reduction, water conservation, integration of sustainability efforts into the curriculum, promotion of sustainability in co-curricular activities and utilizing the campus as a living laboratory.

“I’m so excited for the College to now join so many other great campuses working to track and assess meaningful sustainability initiatives through the STARS system,” said Lynch of the Silver rating, announced in late November.Heather photo

STARS ratings begin at “reporter” and go up from there to bronze (70 institutions), silver (212 institutions) and gold (122 institutions), with only three platinum institutions worldwide.  Lynch said the current score for Saint Michael’s of 57.03 is within striking distance of the 65 scoring threshold that earns a gold rating, so that’s her next goal. “The biggest thing we were lacking across five categories was any institutional policy mandating specific goals, so that’s what I want to see if we can improve going forward,” she said.

This is the first official STARS report that the College has submitted, and was the result of over a year-long effort of data collection by Lynch and student employees in her office, Allie “Kai” Novak ’17 and Kassidy Snair ’17. Lynch said submission of a STARS report for the College was something she has wanted to do for five years, but changes in the system and technical reporting hurdles on collecting data drew out the process. 

“When working to enhance the sustainability of any institution, it can be an incredibly overwhelming and daunting task with hundreds of moving parts to tackle simultaneously,” she said. “The STARS program has become the ultimate tool utilized by higher education institutions to help sustainability professionals manage this. It enables us to comprehensively assess the sustainability efforts across the entire campus and then works to create a roadmap for continual progress by identifying areas that need more attention. As someone who loves data and is big on intentional planning, I have literally been dreaming about completing this assessment for many, many years.”

Saint Michael’s sustainability efforts began back in the 1980s with the creation of a recycling program under former Custodial Supervisor Mae Harrington. Fast forward to 2008 when the Office of Sustainability was created within Facilities by former Director of Facilities, Dave Cutler. Since then, the College’s efforts towards increased sustainability have greatly expanded in the areas mentioned.

Perspective from the VPAA

Karen Talentino, Saint Michael’s vice president for academic affairs, said that Lynch “has been a tremendous sustainability leader on our campus since she arrived ten years ago.  As I look at the results of the STARS silver rating, I can see Heather’s footprint throughout the institutional report – particularly in the areas of Engagement and Operations.  Working with her Facilities colleagues, Heather has kept our eyes on the many positive outcomes of managing a sustainable campus environment.  Her work with Kristyn Achilich on the Community Garden and with Brian Roper in Sodexo has engaged increasing numbers of students, staff and faculty who recognize the academic, social and environmental impact and importance of sustainable food systems.”

More than 400 institutions have earned a STARS rating, making AASHE’s program the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance, Lynch said. Participants report achievements in five areas: academics, engagement, operations, planning & administration, and innovation & leadership. Though STARS is a sustainability-focused system that keys on environmental matters, it also assesses social and economic factors, measuring both qualitative and quantitative information on sustainability metrics for the institution. Credits earned are totaled to arrive at an institution’s rating (not ranking).solar array filer 2015

“While there are many people who have contributed to this achievement, it is Heather’s leadership that has carefully encouraged and directed us towards this goal,” Talentino said. “These results should serve as both an inspiration and a challenge as we work as a community to expand our sustainability efforts, and to educate our students about their role as environmental stewards.

The Office of Sustainability will be celebrating a decade of existence at Saint Michael’s this upcoming summer, said Lynch. “It seems fitting that we close out the 10-year mark with this tremendous achievement and thus begin the next 10 years in crafting a solid plan to keep the college moving forward,” she said. “Even though I’ve been in this position for 10 years, I feel like I’m just beginning to roll my sleeves up and am excited for what lies ahead.”

 

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