Pitzer College and Pomona College both received a ‘Gold’ rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the colleges announced on Jan. 25 and Feb. 4, respectively. Out of 100 possible points in the AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), Pitzer scored 66.85 and Pomona 68.35.
Pomona previously submitted data to the earlier version of the rating system in 2011, but this was Pitzer’s first time submitting data to STARS. Pitzer sustainability manager Warren Biggins said that receiving a ‘Gold’ rating for the college’s first-ever report was an encouraging confirmation of the school’s efforts so far.
“I think it’s a great indication that Pitzer is living its values,” Biggins said.
The rankings draw on traditional metrics of environmental sustainability like water usage, energy consumption, and carbon emissions (see graph), as well as categories not always associated with the idea of sustainability: worker safety, affordability, and community service. The inclusion of those areas in the reporting process, Biggins said, had prompted him to expand his own definition of sustainability.
Alexis Reyes, assistant director of sustainability at Pomona, agreed.
“Those categories,” she said, are “definitely something we should include as part of our office’s view of sustainability.”
As AASHE’s website notes, STARS uses self-reported data. Aidan Orly PO ‘16, commissioner of environmental affairs for the Associated Students of Pomona College, said that although “in general, it’s a good idea to take everything with a grain of salt,” he does not have serious reservations about the accuracy of the data.
“I trust what is being said and being reported because I trust the people in our sustainability office,” Orly said.
Reyes said that the information used for Pomona’s report was cross-checked by multiple students during the collection process, and spot-checked by the former assistant director of sustainability, Ginny Routhe.
“STARS isn’t a perfect tool or assessment,” Biggins said, “but right now I think it’s the best option available.”
Biggins hopes to use the assessment as a “roadmap” to guide the college’s future efforts. “You know immediately what steps you can take,” he added.
Reyes also spoke of using STARS to help guide her office’s future planning. Looking at specific categories in other schools’ reports, she learned about new programs that Pomona might implement.
But Reyes cautioned against using the overall scores as a point of comparison. Because the total score encompasses so many different metrics—AASHE scores schools in 77 different subcategories, and points are assigned differently in each—Reyes suggested that simply comparing ratings wouldn’t be of much use.
Similarly, Orly said that the overall rating wasn’t particularly important in his perspective.
“What AASHE uses to measure is not necessarily what I would use to measure,” he said. “They very much focus on the quantitative—at least, that’s what it seems like to me.” The way students and staff on campus support or feel supported by sustainability programs, he explained, isn’t captured by the report.
“I’d love to have a broader conversation about it,” Orly said.
The other undergraduate colleges in the consortium are also on track to participate in AASHE's ratings. Scripps College, which previously submitted a report in 2013, will submit new data to STARS by this summer, sustainability coordinator Crystal Weintrub said. Claremont McKenna College’s Roberts Environmental Center is “preparing a STARS report,” William Ascher, the center’s director, wrote in an email to TSL. At Harvey Mudd College, the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design is working with the Office of Facilities and Maintenance to gather the necessary data for participation in STARS, though the process may not be complete in time for the upcoming round of reporting, according to Hixon Professor of Sustainable Environmental Design Tanja Srebotnjak.