Sustainability: Giving credit where credit is due

Laura Huenneke

By Laura Huenneke, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Northern Arizona University is committed to sustainability in academic and research programs as well as in operations. That commitment produces results: You have probably seen the recent announcement that we earned a Gold rating in the STARS program, up from Silver in last year’s report.

STARS is a self-reported assessment of the sustainability performance of an educational institution, with some wiggle room in interpreting and presenting metrics. Understandably, the “self-reported” aspect may raise some questions about the significance of the ratings.

There’s no question in my mind.

Last year, which was NAU’s first year of participation, I was part of the tough discussions about how to present our performance on some of the measures.

Although it was tempting to try to count every tiny effort and be generous in our descriptions of activities, in the end we focused on strict documentation and integrity in reporting. Even with such a conservative approach, NAU earned a Silver rating.

This year, with concrete evidence of improvement in curriculum and in co-curricular activities, NAU moved solidly into the Gold category. There is still more improvement to be made and reported; for example, there are some huge opportunities for progress in documenting efforts in campus operations.

As a university community, we’re currently working on more effective communication of our actual sustainability accomplishments, from unique academic programs to facilities. The Green NAU website has become a central resource for such communications, but it does not yet capture all the accomplishments.

What aspects of our sustainability and environmental/social commitments do you believe we should promote and highlight?

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