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  • AASHE-STARS

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating Systemâ„¢ (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.

Technical Manual

The STARS 2.0 Technical Manual (pdf) is the go-to guide for the STARS credits and is organized into four main categories (Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration), which are broken down into sub-categories where the individual STARS credits are located.

The STARS 2.0 Credit Checklist (pdf) provides a quick snapshot of the credits included in STARS. The data collected for each credit is documented in the online Reporting Tool, which is only available to STARS participants. Participants who registered under a previous version of STARS may upgrade to the current version at any time from within the Reporting Tool. 

All previous versions of the Technical Manual are available, including detailed summaries of the changes made between each iteration.

Credit Outline

Each STARS credit in the Technical Manual includes the following details:

  • Credit Rationaleprovides background on the importance of the credit in the context of sustainability.
  • Criteria–describes how an institution earns points for the credit.
  • Applicability–indicates which institutions’ STARS scores will be affected by their responses to the credit. Some credits do not apply to some types of institutions. For example, credits involving residence halls do not apply to institutions that do not have residence halls.
  • Scoring–explains how points are allocated for the credit.
  • Reporting Fields–lists the data fields that appear within the Reporting Tool for each credit. Some fields are required while others are listed as optional if the institution wishes to provide additional information.
  • Timeframe–describes the time period from which data should be drawn. For some credits, particularly those that are based on the presence of a policy or program, institutions should report on current practices (i.e. status at the time of reporting). Other credits, particularly those based on quantitative performance, require historical performance data, typically drawn from a one- or three-year period.
  • Sampling and Data Standards–provides guidelines on when institutions may use a representative sample to measure performance and when samples are prohibited. 
  • Standards & Terms–are hyperlinked within the Technical Manual and the online Reporting Tool to provide quick access to definitions and standards referenced by the system.

Credit Development

STARS credits were initially developed in large part by reviewing campus sustainability assessments, sustainability reports from businesses, and other sustainability rating and ranking systems. The current version of STARS incorporates feedback and suggestions from hundreds of diverse stakeholders and experts. For more information see previous versions of the STARS Technical Manual and the Technical Development Policy

The STARS governance structure collectively strives to ensure that each credit is objective, measurable, and actionable. STARS is designed to incorporate the full spectrum of sustainability achievement, and upper levels of achievement represent highly ambitious, long-term goals. Therefore there are some credits for which few, if any, institutions will achieve full points currently. 

Given the diversity of higher education institutions, each STARS credit should be appropriate for most institution types. In order to accommodate this diversity, some STARS credits do not include detailed specifications but are instead flexible or open. In other cases, credits include an applicability criterion, so that the credits only apply to certain types of institutions. By following this approach, institutions are not penalized when they do not earn credits that they could not possibly earn due to their circumstances. 

Point Allocation

Credits vary in the number of points they are worth. Points were allocated by a panel of STARS Steering Committee members and AASHE staff using the following considerations:

  1. To what extent does achievement of the credit ensure that people (students, employees and/or local community members) acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to meet sustainability challenges?
  2. To what extent does achievement of the credit contribute to (a) human and ecological health and mitigate negative environmental impacts; (b) secure livelihoods, a sustainable economy and other positive financial impacts; and (c) social justice, equity, diversity, cooperation, democracy and other positive social impacts?
  3. To what extent are the positive impacts associated with achievement of the credit not captured in other STARS credits?

Impact vs. Difficulty

As these questions indicate, the focus in allocating points is on the impact, not the difficulty, of earning each credit. Some sustainability initiatives may be very difficult to implement but yield negligible impacts. Conversely, some generally easier projects have significant impacts. Assigning points based on the difficulty of earning a credit would create a perverse incentive for institutions to focus on the difficult projects or initiatives, which may not have the most meaningful impact.