Reporting Assurance

STARS includes incentives to encourage institutions to complete an assurance process that successfully identifies and resolves inconsistencies prior to submitting their STARS Report. 

To help facilitate pre-submission assurance, AASHE publishes a STARS Review Template. The template highlights areas that are commonly misinterpreted and ensures that reviewers follow a standard review process. The assurance process may include:

  • Internal review by one or more individuals affiliated with the institution, but who are not directly involved in the data collection process for the credits they review. AND/OR
  • An external audit by one or more individuals affiliated with other organizations (e.g., a peer institution or third-party contractor).

Participation in an assurance process can earn points within both active versions of STARS. For details, please review the full credit language within the Technical Manual.

STARS 2.1

  • 0.5 bonus points are available in the Pre-Submission Review exemplary practice credit.
  • 0.5 points are available in the Inter-Campus Collaboration credit for providing a peer review of another institution’s submission.

STARS 2.2

  • 1 point is available in the Reporting Assurance credit.
  • 0.5 points are available in the Inter-Campus Collaboration credit for providing a peer review of another institution’s submission.
  • 0.5 bonus points are available in the External Reporting Assurance exemplary practice credit when the institution’s assurance process includes external review.

How to find an independent reviewer for your institution’s STARS report:

Independent review is a process by which an individual who is not affiliated with the institution reviews and provides assurance for the institution’s STARS report. There is no formal process for finding a reviewer, but here are some options:

  • Ask a colleague directly – Consider contacts you’ve made by attending professional conferences and participating in regional or topical sustainability networks.
  • Post a request on the STARS Community or a relevant email list – Include the desired time frame for the review and any other information you think might be relevant for prospective peer reviewers.
  • Hire a third-party assurance provider – The following AASHE member organizations offer third-party external review of STARS reports for a fee:
    • GreenerU
    • Sightlines

Please contact us at stars@aashe.org if you know of other organizations that offer this service. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of obtaining Reporting Assurance?

In addition to the point-earning opportunities outlined above, results from our STARS Review Pilot indicated that institutions that completed a pre-submission assurance process had fewer issues following AASHE’s standard review, had minimal changes in provisional score, and got their reports published sooner. 

Can someone from our institution perform the assurance process?

Yes, you can choose to conduct either an internal review or independent review (or, as some institutions have done, a combination). The most important thing is to choose a reviewer who was not involved in any STARS data collection for your institution, understands the STARS credit criteria, has good attention to detail, and will use the approved STARS Review Template. However, to be eligible for the External Reporting Assurance exemplary practice credit, the reviewer may not be affiliated with your institution.

Do we have to use the STARS Review Template?

Use of the STARS Review Template is REQUIRED in order to earn points for any of the above credits. The template highlights areas that are commonly misinterpreted and ensures that reviewers follow a standard review process. 

When should we start looking for a reviewer?

The assurance process must be completed prior to submitting your report, but after the data has been collected and entered into the Reporting Tool. For many institutions, this means that a reviewer will be needed for a very specific time window. You will want to find your reviewer in advance and allow ample time for the review to be completed. Keep in mind, the review process will require time to address the reviewer(s) comments as well as a second, or even third review of the report to ensure all issues have been addressed. 

Can we simply trade reviews with another institution?

You may want to agree on a review exchange with a handful of other institutions. This would require you, or someone at your institution, to review another institution’s report prior to them submitting. We don’t recommend directly trading reviews with another institution, as this can present a conflict of interest and potentially raise questions about the validity of the assurance process. Instead, a best practice would be to find three or more institutions to trade reviews, for example so that institution A reviews institution B’s report, institution B reviews C’s report, and institution C reviews institution A’s report.

How can I serve as a peer reviewer?

Many of the suggestions for finding a peer reviewer (see above) apply when you would like to volunteer your services as a peer reviewer. You can ask colleagues directly and monitor or post to listservs to seek out opportunities.

2.1 Example Responses

  • Babson College – Conducted independent review through a paid contractor as well as internal review using the standard review template – great collaboration and a very thorough review.
  • Connecticut College – Good example of conducting peer review with a sustainability officer at another institution.
  • Hampshire College – Good example of conducting independent review through a paid contractor.
  • University of Wisconsin-River Falls – Good example of engaging students in STARS submission review.

Common Issues Identified During Review

  • To count as an exemplary practice, the institution must have had a finalized version of its current STARS submission reviewed by an independent party, and must have addressed any inconsistencies identified by the reviewer(s) prior to submission. Check for documentation to back this up.

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