Applying STARS to your organization’s unique contexts


STARS is a comprehensive sustainability assessment that can be used by any higher education institution in the world. To the extent possible, STARS credits reference international standards, recognizes programs that are relevant to diverse contexts, and make allowances for local equivalents. 

However we understand that certain contexts may present unique reporting challenges. This article provides recommendations on how STARS can be successfully applied in any local or regional context. 

See related article, STARS Language and Translation Guidelines.

Frequently Asked Questions

What contexts may make STARS reporting challenging? 

  • Institutional characteristics – Institution size, research intensity, degree of (de)centralization, access to resources, institutional culture, and other factors can impact data availability or the means to successfully pursue a credit.
  • Regional characteristics – There may be cases where a standard, program or equivalent is not available in, or relevant to, a specific geographic region. Likewise, there may be cases where it is currently not possible to meet a criterion due to an institution’s legal or policy jurisdiction (e.g., a restriction on water reuse or a ban on using public funds to participate in green building rating systems).

In what ways does STARS provide flexibility when reporting in unique contexts?

There are no required credits in STARS, and institutions can choose not to pursue any credit. Institutions also have the option to pursue an unscored report resulting in a Reporter designation, rather than a scored report with a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum rating. Going further, the scoring methodology is designed to account for differences in context in multiple ways: 

  • Applicability – Some credits allow institutions to opt out of that credit on specific grounds (e.g., institutions with little/no research intensity may opt out of Research credits). Credits marked Not Applicable do not count against an institution’s score.
  • Contextual variability – Scores for some credits vary based on institutional contexts and impacts (e.g., the Sustainable Investment credit is weighted more heavily for institutions with large investment pools and less heavily for institutions with smaller investment pools).
  • Normalized metrics – Quantitative metrics in STARS are normalized to account for differences in organizational characteristics (e.g., to control for differences in size).
  • Approved equivalents – Some credits in STARS may reference certifications that are common in the U.S. and Canada, and for which equivalent certifications may exist elsewhere. Institutions can reference equivalent certifications if the standards are comparable. Approved equivalents are added to the relevant Help Center credit FAQ (e.g., Anchor Institution Network credit). If a particular program isn’t listed in the relevant Help Center article and you think it qualifies, please email to inquire if it qualifies as an equivalent, providing justification for its equivalency.  
  • Innovation & Leadership credits – These credits acknowledge exemplary practice and  provide bonus points in STARS, and may or may not be applicable to any specific institution. A wide array of Innovation and Leadership credits are offered and bonus points are capped, allowing institutions across diverse contexts to earn bonus points. 
  • Flexible timeframes – For credits that include comparisons between baseline and performance years, institutions have a wide range of flexibility. If historical emissions data are not available to report for the Emissions reduction credit, for example, institutions can report the same data and timeframe for the baseline and performance years. 
  • COVID reporting exemptions – AASHE offers flexibility with STARS reporting for institutions across all contexts whose reporting has been impacted by COVID.

Does STARS make exceptions for institutions in unique contexts?

All STARS submissions are evaluated and scored based on the same set of standards and methodologies outlined in the STARS Technical Manual. As noted above, these standards are designed to control for a variety of organizational differences. To provide meaningful sustainability comparisons and benchmarking, we do not allow exceptions above and beyond the allowances outlined in the Technical Manual and in alignment with established precedents.

Is STARS only for higher education institutions, or can other organizations participate?

While STARS is designed for higher education institutions (see related article, “Is my institution eligible?”), we also welcome other educational organizations (e.g., schools, museums, or adult education institutions) to participate. If your organization is not a higher education institution but you have a compelling case for participation, please email

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