Silver STARS rating affirms good sustainability work
College's blossoming Center for Environment making a difference across campus in all seasons; Director Kristyn Achilich '05 shares summer highlights while previewing more to come
A strong recent national recognition of the valuable and innovative work being done through Saint Michael’s College’s Center for the Environment under the leadership of Director Kristyn Achilich ’05, M’20 came this summer in the form of a Silver STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
An official for the national AASHE STARS team wrote to announce the news last month to Karen Talentino — the retiring biology professor and former vice president for academic affairs who was instrumental in plugging the College into the rating system years ago and advocating for sustainability measures at the College. Those early efforts have been carried forth energetically and comprehensively by Achilich and her team since.
Said Achilich, “After a long spring of hard work, data collection, and analysis lead by Karen Talentino and supported by myself, the Center, Facilities, Dining, and many members of the Sustainable Campus Committee, we were delighted to learn that we have maintained our Silver rating.”
She said the assessment process of the rating system “was a thorough and unique opportunity to strategically evaluate our work with the Center, and specifically, our sustainable practices and ethos at the college. This has led to not just the certification, but also a strategic planning process for the Center and its programs moving forward.” The certification is valid through July 5, 2024.
With more than 900 participants in 40 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.” “Saint Michael’s 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.
AASHE, according to the organization’s publicity, “is an association of colleges and universities that are working to create a sustainable future. AASHE’s mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. It provides resources, professional development and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research. For more information about AASHE, visit www.aashe.org. For more information about the STARS program, visit stars.aashe.org.
Process focuses coming sustainability efforts
Achilich said the four-month data collection process seeded planning for the 2021/2022 academic year within the College’s Sustainable Campus Team. “We are gearing up fr a Ditch the Dumpster Move In process after a very successful Move Out in the spring,” she said. “The Campus Store has gently used refrigerators and microwaves for purchase as a result of these efforts. This initiative reduces costs on these products for the students, cuts out transport and packaging waste, and keeps working materials out of the landfill.”
“The Center for the Environment has also moved its physical home to a more central and larger location in St. Edmund’s Hall,” Achilich said. “This move has kept us busy this summer and as allowed for better access to the food grown on the farm, connection with campus, and the physical space needed to consolidate all our programing from GreenUp to the Farm and Teaching Gardens to Sustainable Campus in one location. The Center has also hired a second staff member to join Center director in stewarding and organizing these places and programs. This team member will join us mid-August and largely be taking over the Farm’s operations and some teaching responsibilities.”
Achilich shared a further update on a very active summer for the Center:
Salad Days: While we did very well last year both with in-person classes and food safety on the farm as well as production, we really missed our community programming with the larger Saint Michael’s community.
Last Tuesday, July 27, was our second salad day of the season and it was probably one of the most well attended both in numbers and number of offices and programs that were represented. As the farm team and I cleaned up, we reflected on how cathartic it was to have our community in this space we steward 10 months of the year. The mission of the program is and never was production. It’s Food – Community – Education. We tackled the first and third last year, but are grateful to return to the heart of what we do. Save the date for September 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. for our third and final Salad Day of the season.
Farm Season Update: We started the season with an awesome team of six students. They focused on education & outreach, crop & field planning, business operations, data collection and organization, and diversity, equity, inclusion and access. We hustled to get fields prepped and crops in the ground after taking a much needed extra week to pause after a trying school year for all. The two-year drought continued to challenge us. Just as we were perfecting our watering protocol to keep everything hydrated and cool yet be mindful of our consumption, it began to rain.
Crops grew, so did the weeds, machines broke and were fixed by our Grounds Team, pests emerged, temperatures hit several record range spans in a matter of a few days, and the rain kept coming. The Vermont Vegetable & Berry Listserv is a wealth of information for not only Vermont but New England. Farmers shared their stories of success, failure and solutions as we all weathered the realities of a rapidly changing climate together. This community connection as well as our field visits to other farms adds perspective for our students, including the reality of what they do here. It’s a powerful experience to steward, witness, and participate in. Students have hosted numerous volunteer days both on the farm and in the Teaching Gardens as well as the Nursery and Pollinator Gardens. They hosted an event for our summer BIPOC students on farm to plant our international bed and this food as well as more will be used in a SOAR welcoming event on the Farm during Orientation Week, Wednesday, August 25 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
In other news: While the farm is certainly the most active of our outdoor classrooms this time of the year, the Natural Area has weathered storms, hosted a team of student researchers too. The Teaching Gardens are used widely each week as a volunteer work site and a beautiful place for lunch, meetings, and prospective students to witness the splendor of a Vermont summer as well as ponder connections to literature and science.
Fall Events: Move In & Orientation, continued partnership with MOVE’s Outdoor Volunteer Efforts program across all classrooms, support and collaboration with First Year Seminar’s common read, Braiding Sweetgrass, fall student employment team hiring and sustainable campus efforts through the EcoRep program.