Williams receives STARS Gold rating for sustainability

Williams College has earned a STARS Gold rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.

Williams’ STARS report is publicly available on the STARS website.

“This is an exciting accomplishment,” says Tanja Srebotnjak, director of the college’s Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives that prepared the report. “It reflects that sustainability cuts across all departments and involves everyone, every day. What we learn and practice at Williams matters for our region and carries forth in our graduates, who will shape the future.”

Williams, located in the mountains of western Massachusetts, has a long history of attention to environmental issues. Its Center for Environmental Studies, founded in 1967, was one of the first environmental studies programs at any liberal arts college in America. More recently, in 2015 the school announced an ambitious set of climate goals, including the reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions to 35% below 1990 levels, making new curricular investments related to the study of the environment and climate change, and investing endowment funds in projects that benefit the environment.

In 2021, the school’s provost, Dukes Love, reported that the college had met many of these goals and would set new ones following a campuswide strategic planning process. The new generation of goals encompasses climate action; attention to buildings, landscaping and land use; education and research; responsible consumption; community, equity and inclusion; and accountability and transparency. These aims are being codified in a Sustainability Action Plan, accompanied by a Climate Action Plan, a Zero Waste Action Plan and a Community and Equity Action Plan.

“The move from Silver to Gold was an important milestone,” Love said. “Strategic planning gave us an opportunity to define sustainability goals across all aspects of the college’s mission, including education, research, climate justice, and campus operations. So many of these goals are consistent with the areas of emphasis in AASHE STARS, and it was gratifying to see the work of our staff, faculty, students, and alumni translate into a Gold rating. We also know, though, that we have a long ways to go before we can meet our internal sustainability goals. STARS will continue to serve as both a source of motivation and an essential accountability framework for making progress.”

With more than 900 participants in 40 countries, AASHE’s STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in five overall areas: 1) academics 2) engagement, 3) operations, 4) planning and administration, and 5) innovation and leadership.

“STARS was developed by the campus sustainability community to provide high standards for recognizing campus sustainability efforts,” said AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser. “Williams has demonstrated a substantial commitment to sustainability by achieving a STARS Gold Rating and is to be congratulated for their efforts.”

Unlike other rating or ranking systems, this program is open to all institutions of higher education, and the criteria that determine a STARS rating are transparent and accessible to anyone. Because STARS is a program based on credits earned, it allows for both internal comparisons as well as comparisons with similar institutions.

Williams President Maud S. Mandel says, “As Williams works to educate students about our responsibilities to the planet, and to model those principles in our own management of campus resources, the STARS program will be a valuable way to track and measure our impact. Gold status is an important step toward the ultimate goal: to make Williams a place of learning where respect for the environment is central to what we teach and do.”

Published April 21, 2022