The Columns

W&L’s Sustainability Efforts Earn Silver Rating

— by on August 3rd, 2017

STARS Silver

Six years ago, Washington and Lee University took its first steps toward establishing the university’s Energy Education Program by hiring two energy specialists. Since then, W&L has implemented multiple steps to decrease its carbon footprint. These efforts have not gone unrecognized–and most recently the university increased its sustainability rating from a bronze to a silver in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).

The STARS system is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. W&L originally earned a bronze STARS rating in 2011 after a report was submitted by W&L students in an environmental studies class. This year’s report was compiled by dozens of W&L faculty, staff, and students.

According to its mission statement, STARS is designed to: “Provide a framework for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education that will enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions using a common set of measurements. In an effort to create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability and stronger, more diverse campus community.”

In 2015, W&L hired a campus garden manager and further efforts were taken to earn the campus’s place on a sustainability scale. Dining services began purchasing its produce from the campus garden at 90 percent of the market rate. The garden also benefits the greater Lexington community through produce donations to the community food bank. Additionally, flowers grown in the garden are donated to Rockbridge Area Hospice.

Students are eager to invest their time and energy into greener efforts, as well.

“When I started the office of sustainability three years ago, we started with three interns. We now have 14,” said Kimberly Hodge, director of sustainability initiatives and education.  “Likewise, the compost crew had five people. We now have close to 20.”

Looking ahead, Hodge hopes to see increased sustainability efforts, and there has been movement to better incorporate sustainability into the academic curriculum. The university has also adopted a resolution to include sustainability initiatives in its strategic plan.

After completing this year’s STARS report, Hodge is working on possible steps to help Washington and Lee reach a gold rating in 2019, such as continuing to “green” campus vehicles, tracking and reducing water use, and continuing to reduce W&L’s greenhouse gas emissions and investing in additional alternative energy.