STARS provides a great deal of flexibility so that you can tailor the reporting process to meet your institution’s needs, goals and timeline. Therefore, the amount of time it takes to complete a STARS submission varies considerably depending on how you choose to approach the reporting process.
Some institutions use STARS as a tool to engage staff, students and faculty and help build a culture of sustainability on campus. For institutions that use STARS this way, the process can be as important as the results, therefore it may take a full year complete a STARS submission.
Other institutions take a more straightforward approach, relying on a small committee or hiring consultants to complete their first submission in as little as two months.
Longer term, institutions that re-submit annually find that the process takes less time because annual reporting helps maintain relationships with data providers and creates a routine that many are already familiar with because of other annual reporting commitments. Subsequent submissions also become easier because STARS credits will typically only need to be updated and not started from scratch.
As the image on the right indicates, the STARS process also varies based on your institution's level of access. You can move between the two as the needs of your institution change.
Planning Your Approach
As you start the reporting process, it is helpful to keep the following points in mind.
Deciding Which Credits to Pursue
Use the Credit Checklist to review available credits:
Are there credits that don't apply to your institution?
Are there credits that you are confident you will be able to earn?
Are there credits that your institution is not ready to pursue right now?
Most credits may be completed with readily available data, however some credits require the completion of an assessment or inventory. For example, the Academic Courses credit requires an inventory of the institution’s sustainability course offerings. The process of completing these assessments can have enormous value in terms of setting baselines and identifying opportunities for improvement, but it can also take some time. It is therefore helpful to plan an approach to these credits early on in the process.
Identifying Data Sources and Providers
STARS requests data that will need to be sourced from diverse departments across campus. This process helps build relationships and also encourages staff members and faculty to better understand the role their departments can play in building institutional sustainability. Locating the departments and individuals that have the information you need can involve some detective work, so allow time to “map” where sustainability data live on campus.
Deciding on an Approach to Data Collection
There are several different approaches to collecting data for STARS. Which option(s) make the most sense for your institution? Can multiple options be employed?
The sustainability champion - a single energetic individual who leads the process.
A sustainability office or committee - a group of diverse campus stakeholders that each take responsibility for coordinating data collection for specific subcategories or credits.
Student projects - for example, STARS could be a thesis project for a graduate student or the focus of student interns for course credit.
STARS courses - usually led by an enthusiastic faculty person, courses may be created to focus solely on STARS or STARS may be integrated into an existing course.
A distributed model - for example, give staff, students and other data providers direct access to the Reporting Tool and/or other collaborative tools.
Getting Administrative Support
Executive support can often streamline the data collection process. A memo from the president, chancellor, or other administrator to faculty and staff requesting support for the STARS data collection process, or an email request for sustainability data copied to or co-signed by a provost or other executive can serve as important encouragement for data providers to participate. Please also note that every STARS submission must be accompanied by a cover letter from a high-ranking executive.
Because STARS is comprehensive, it is important to have a system in place to manage the data collection process. Some institutions manage the process in the Reporting Tool itself, while others use tools like collaborative Google Sheets to assign credits and track progress (access templates on the STARS website). Deciding on an approach to managing data collection and tracking progress in advance will help keep you focused and on schedule.
- Download a one page STARS flyer to share basic information about the program with campus stakeholders.
- When working on a specific credit in the online Reporting Tool, there is a 'Resources' tab that includes shareable credit language, a data collection spreadsheet, tips and tools, and best practice examples from other institutions.
- The STARS Technical Manual also includes credit and scoring examples for many credits. It may also be helpful to access other participants' reports or the Data Displays to see how other institutions have reported under the same version of STARS.
- In addition, the 'My Resources' section of the online tool houses STARS seals, template press releases, and a comprehensive data tracking spreadsheet.
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