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American U Adopts Self-Reporting Sustainability Program

American University in Washington, DC is the latest university to announce its participation in a new self-reporting sustainability program launched by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the same organization that created the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment. The latest initiative, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS, launched in mid-January 2010, is a reporting tool that allows a member institution to gauge its progress in a number of sustainability areas, including research and curriculum, buildings and climate, dining services and energy, water usage and waste management practices, and investment and public engagement.

The framework was created by representatives from colleges and universities, higher education associations, related nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies. At the time of this reporting, 125 institutions had signed onto the program.

"Life at American University is marked by an active pursuit of sustainability," said Chris O'Brien, director of sustainability. "Students, staff, and faculty are dedicated to environmental and social responsibility. By participating in this program our community will experience an even greater sense of responsibility."

American University's push toward sustainability began in the 1990s with a rededicated focus to the original campus plan, created by noted landscape designer Frederick Law Olmstead. The university revived Olmstead's original design, incorporating more gardens across campus. As a result, in 2004, the National Arboretum and Botanical Garden Association designated AU as a public garden and arboretum.

In spring 2006 AU signed the Talloires Declaration, the first formal statement made by university presidents, chancellors, and rectors of a commitment to environmental sustainability in higher education. In 2008 President Neil Kerwin signed the Presidents' Climate Commitment pledging that AU would work to achieve carbon neutrality.

Recently, Kerwin also signed a suite of sustainability policies, including ones mandating green building, green cleaning, sustainable purchasing, and zero waste. The policies are designed to adhere to STARS recommendations and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building standards.

American University is also participating in a pilot program with the US Green Building Council to develop a streamlined approach to green building certification for campuses. A team is working to certify 30 campus buildings to LEED standards, including the new School of International Service building, designed to achieve LEED Gold certification. The new building will open in fall 2010.

In addition, according to the university, this spring AU will install a wind turbine and a steam turbine to reduce the its carbon emissions. It has also introduced the use of biodiesel fuel in its vehicle fleet.

"The advantage of STARS is that all aspects of campus life are taken into consideration with regard to the ability to earn credits," said AASHE Executive Director Paul Rowland. "From providing sustainability coursework, to dorm cleaning products, to energy efficiency in campus buildings, there are lots of opportunities for a school to identify and track its sustainability progress."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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