We understand that STARS participants have been and continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In immediate response, STARS reports expiring between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 were extended by six months (180 days) to provide participants with additional time work with data providers who were impacted by the pandemic or to complete the post-submission collaborative review and revision process. AASHE is also offering additional flexibility with STARS reporting, as outlined below.
Guidance and Support
The pandemic is likely to impact the data you report to STARS in a variety of ways. For example, the number of employees and students on campus may have dropped dramatically during certain periods, impacting commuting figures and weighted campus user calculations.
These impacts will vary depending on each institution’s context, making a one-size-fits-all response impractical. For example, some institutions may wish to avoid reporting on the pandemic period in the hopes of maintaining better continuity with previous reports, while others may find it important to document the reality of the situation as accurately as possible.
The general recommendation of the STARS Steering Committee and the AASHE STARS team is to craft a report that you believe captures your institution’s performance as accurately as possible, even if that means diverging from previously established timeframes and methodologies (see specific guidance below). In doing so, please carefully document in the Reporting Tool any adjustments you make in response to COVID-19 to help ensure that others will be able to understand your decisions and accurately interpret your report.
A few specific points to note:
Timeframes may vary from credit to credit. There is no requirement that every credit be based on the same time period. Likewise, operational and demographic figures may vary from credit to credit. Although you have the option to copy the Institutional Characteristics and Academics and Demographics figures reported in the PRE section of the Reporting Tool into certain credits, you have the freedom to edit those figures in credits as needed. Ultimately, the internal consistency of each credit (i.e., ensuring that all data points associated with a credit are based on the same timeframe) is more important than consistency across the entire report.
The Weighted Campus User figures used to normalize resource use and emissions presents a nearly universal challenge due to periods in which many students and employees were not on-site as expected. Although the data in the PRE section of the Reporting Tool should reflect more typical values (e.g., autumn enrollment figures), you may wish to account for variations in the on-campus population in more detail within specific credits. This can be accomplished, for example, by using the weighted average of each population across an entire year rather than a snapshot of a particular point in time. For example, you might adjust the total number of students living in residence halls downward to reflect the number of months that students were not on campus. These calculations would be done outside of the Reporting Tool with the resulting figures reported within specific credits and clearly documented.
Credits that may be impacted include: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Waste Minimization and Diversion, Water Use.
Documenting Decisions and Methodologies
As you make decisions about adjustments within the context of each credit, make sure that those adjustments are clearly documented in the “Data sources(s) and notes” field, if not in another reporting field. For example, you may elect to use 2019 data even though 2020 data are available or use weighted averages to better reflect the reality of a year that included extreme variations.
Assessments and Inventories
If your institution intended to conduct an updated assessment relevant to a STARS credit in 2020 or 2021 (e.g., of courses, literacy, culture, food purchasing, emissions, equity and inclusion, or employee satisfaction), but those plans have been put on hold by the pandemic, you may report on an older assessment conducted within the previous six years, as long as the assessment methodology is still appropriate for responding to the fields in the version of STARS under which you are reporting. This is an exceptional provision that deviates from the standard requirement that assessments be completed within the previous three years. Again, clear documentation is required.
Credits that may be impacted include: Academic Courses, Sustainability Literacy Assessment, Campus as a Living Laboratory, Research and Scholarship, Assessing Sustainability Culture, Continuing Education, Emissions Inventory and Disclosure, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Food and Beverage Purchasing, Biodiversity, Commute Modal Split, Assessing Diversity and Equity, Assessing Employee Satisfaction.
If your institution intended to publish a formal plan under the Sustainability Planning credit, but the publication of that plan has been put on hold by the pandemic, institutions may report on an older plan, as long as it meets the current 2.2 credit criteria.
Policies, Programs, and Initiatives
Credits that ask about the current status of a policy, program, or initiative should not be impacted, unless the item in question has been terminated. Programs and initiatives that have been suspended temporarily due to the pandemic may still be reported as active. For example, if programs focused on engagement in residence halls are put on hold while residence halls are closed, you may report on whatever was in place when residence halls were last open as long as you document the actual status of the programs in the Reporting Tool.
If you come up against any issues that you’re unsure how to resolve, please post an inquiry to the online STARS community or reach out to the AASHE STARS team with details about the specific situation. We’ll be happy to talk through the options with you.
For more information about reporting timeframes, see this Help Center article: How should we select a reporting timeframe or performance year for STARS credits?