A group of students at Sonoma State University are working to improve sustainability on campus and will be submitting an audit to STARS — the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System —in early May to gauge how the campus measures up to other universities across the world in terms of sustainability. This program is a part the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, a nonprofit that aims to empower university’s faculty, staff and students to become agents of change by driving sustainability innovation on campus.
In addition to running the rating system program, the association also holds an annual conference and gives out awards to recognize sustainability leadership by institutions and individuals, aiming to make sustainable practices in higher education the norm. STARS will give Sonoma State, along with 758 other registered participating universities, a rating of either bronze, silver, gold or platinum, signifying that school’s level of sustainability.
This year will be the first time Sonoma State has submitted to STARS, and this milestone for the school is due to the hard work of a team of 11 student investigators led by Claudia Sisomphou, Associated Students senator of sustainability.
“As students or faculty interested in advancing sustainability on our campus, we can always come up with different issues that we see but we don’t have an actual report or a baseline for what those issues are,” said Sisomphou. “Because sustainability reaches so many different aspects of this university, we feel it was really important to set a foundation for how we want to advance sustainability.”
Each university tackles this issue of advancing sustainability differently, and most have faculty or a staff person dedicated to this matter. However, Sonoma State is rare in the sense that administration does not seem to be prioritizing this as a concern. Jeff Baldwin is a geography professor at Sonoma State but also serves as the STARS group’s faculty adviser, and does so out of pure passion for the cause. He hopes that this rating will inspire the new President Judy Sakaki to do more to bring sustainability to the forefront of Sonoma State’s objectives.
“This [report] is something that we can give to the new president and hopefully she can help us out,” Baldwin said. “President Arminana did endorse this as one of the strategic goals of this campus, but resources are limited.”
Danielle Wegner, fellow student investigator for STARS, also hopes that the new president of the university will make sustainability a larger concern for this campus. “We would like to see [from the new president] a respect for the concept of sustainability and a desire to expand it to reach to classes, different clubs and organizations, to our buildings, and to have it really integrated into our campus,” said Wegner.
Sustainability is becoming more prominent in the university’s culture as the campus begins to move toward a lifestyle that embraces long-term ecological balance.
Directly within Sonoma State mission statement, it’s written that the university wants to be a regional leader in sustainability.
By receiving this STARS rating, the students who work hard to promote sustainable practices on campus will finally be able to gain an understanding of what their efforts have achieved.
This will also enlighten the students and staff involved, allowing them to find areas that could use improvement as well.
The STARS group hopes that by receiving this initial rating, it will encourage administration to become more involved and give students who are passionate about sustainability an outlet to explore this issue more thoroughly. Students who become involved in this program can also receive internship credit for their work on campus and in the community.
“In the future, we are hoping to see it become a class or a more structured program, so immediately when a freshmen come to campus and want to get involved with sustainability, [they will know about the] STARS program they can get involved in,” Sisomphou said.
Students who want to learn more about becoming involved with sustainability efforts on campus can email Sisomphou at firstname.lastname@example.org.