One of Patrick McKee’s goals when he was named sustainability manager at Eastern Kentucky University in 2015 was to help the institution receive a STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
Mission accomplished. In recognition of its sustainability achievements, EKU recently received a Bronze rating from AASHE, and is one of only 299 schools worldwide to earn either a Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze rating. STARS is the acronym for Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System.
“That has been my goal from day one,” McKee said. “I take pride in the fact that we’re at Bronze level in such a short period of time.” His next goal: a Silver rating in 2020.
An institution’s score is based on the percentage of points it earns by pursuing relevant credits across four main categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration.
Eastern fared especially well in the Campus Engagement category.
“We want our students to take pride in our sustainability initiatives so they will continue to help us push things forward,” McKee said.
The University also fared “pretty well,” McKee said, in the Operations and Planning and Administration categories, where strategies include a shortened workweek in the summer months and other energy efficiencies, a continued focus on recycling, “green” purchasing policies, and the construction of energy-efficient buildings. EKU’s South Hall was the first residence hall on a public university campus in Kentucky to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold status, and the second phase of the Science Building was awarded the same distinction.
In Fall 2015, President Michael Benson signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, signaling EKU’s resolve to develop a plan for carbon neutrality. In early 2017, the University announced it had completed a comprehensive Climate Action and Resiliency Plan (sustainability.eku.edu/insidelook/eku-releases-climate-action-resiliency-plan) to strategically and economically reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2036, in accordance with the Second Nature Climate Commitment. The plan required an initial investment that will be paid back over 15 years, with an additional savings of $5.2 million by 2036. Mitigation strategies include:
· Implementation of geothermal heating/cooling throughout campus.
· Improvements in central plant and building efficiencies through Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPC).
· Greater efficiencies in steam and chilled water.
· Purchase of renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.
· Reduction in water consumption.
Aided by alumnus Dr. Gary Booth, who retired from a successful career in research and development with Procter and Gamble, an effort is also underway at Eastern to provide “Photons for the Future.” By literally “plugging into” a drive to install solar panels at the University’s Science Building and elsewhere around campus, alumni and friends can help the University on its path to energy savings and, eventually, carbon neutrality.
Eastern is also seeking to reduce vehicular emissions through a ride-sharing program, improvements in public transportation around campus, and a concerted effort to provide a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly campus. In March of this year, the University welcomed the dock-free bike sharing program LimeBike to campus.
McKee said the Bronze rating is the result of a collaborative campus-wide effort, crediting Benson’s “phenomenal” leadership on the matter. The next area of emphasis, he added, will be to integrate sustainability learning objectives into more academic courses.
“STARS was developed by the campus sustainability community to provide high standards for recognizing campus sustainability efforts,” said AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser. “EKU has demonstrated a substantial commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Bronze Rating and is to be congratulated for its efforts.”
For more information about AASHE, visit www.aashe.org.