Reporting Assurance (3.0)

This is an optional Innovation & Leadership (IL) credit. IL credits recognize institutions that are seeking innovative solutions to sustainability challenges and demonstrating sustainability leadership in ways that are not otherwise captured in STARS. Scoring in the Innovation and Leadership section is capped at 10 bonus points total.

Credit Language

IL 1: Reporting Assurance – version 3.0

Questions & Answers

What areas in STARS recognize reporting assurance and report review? 

There are several credits under Version 3.0 where institutions can earn recognition for engaging with others in a comprehensive report review.  These credits include:

  • PRE 5: Reporting Methodologies – This required, unscored credit requests a description of the internal data quality controls and/or any independent audits or external assurance processes used in the preparation of the current report.
  • IL 1: Reporting Assurance – A bonus point can be earned for institutions that have obtained external assurance that all of the information in the institution’s current STARS report is reported in accordance with credit criteria.
  • IL 2: External Reporting Assurance – A bonus point can be earned for institutions that have had their report completed and reviewed by individuals that have attained a STARS 3.0 Data Quality Certificate. 
  • EN 9: Inter-campus Collaboration – Partial points can be earned for institutions in which at least one individual affiliated with that institution has served as a peer reviewer for another institution’s STARS report in the previous three years.

Is Reporting Assurance required?

Under Version 3.0, reporting assurance is encouraged but not required. STARS scoring includes incentives to encourage institutions to complete an assurance process that successfully identifies and resolves inconsistencies prior to submitting their STARS Report.

Are points for Reporting Assurance guaranteed?

Assured reports are still subject to review by AASHE staff prior to publication, which may require additional revisions. AASHE reserves the right to withhold points for this credit if it is determined that the assurance process was clearly unsuccessful in identifying and resolving inconsistencies or errors (e.g., when AASHE staff identify a significant number of issues that are items to check for in the review template, but were not identified as issues or not resolved successfully).

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 reporting assurance process had fewer issues following AASHE’s standard review, had minimal changes in provisional score, and got their reports published sooner.

Do we have to use the STARS Review Template?

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

Who should perform the review?

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).

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. To be eligible for the External Reporting Assurance exemplary practice credit, the reviewer may not be affiliated with your institution.

How can I find an independent reviewer for my 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 suggestions:

  • 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 timeframe for the review and any other information you think might be relevant for prospective peer reviewers.
  • Recruit student reviewers  – Connect with faculty or sustainability staff to identify students with an interest or experience with STARS.
  • Hire a third-party assurance provider – The following AASHE member organizations offer third-party external review of STARS reports for a fee:

Please contact us at if you know of other organizations that offer this service.

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 timeframe. 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 that any identified issues have been addressed.

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.

In terms of data quality, what are the common things to look out for when completing or reviewing a report? 

Some of the common issues that occur across credits throughout STARS include:

  • Supporting affirmative responses – Affirmative responses must be supported by information provided in descriptive fields, particularly in scoring fields that require a descriptive response following a Yes or similar affirmation.
  • Aligning with credit timeframes – In general, information must be current at the time of submission, or based on data from within the last three years prior to submitting. Care should be taken to ensure that information falls within the expected Timeframe (particularly when updating a report).
  • Avoiding or clarifying data outliers – Data outliers can be the result of exemplary performance, a change in operations, or quite frequently, a mistake or miscalculation. Outliers can have significant scoring impacts, so it’s important to pay attention to them and make revisions if they are the result of an error or miscalculation. For outliers due to exemplary performance, please provide information about how this was achieved in the Notes fields.
  • Data consistency across credits – Some information in STARS is asked in multiple sections, and can be quickly duplicated using the Copy From feature. While consistency between credits is typical, there are circumstances where a discrepancy  can be expected. We recommend clarifying the reason for any valid discrepancies in the Notes field.
  • Valid and working URLs – Supporting information via URL is typically optional, though there are a few credits  where a working URL is required.

Resources, Templates & Tools

Version 3.0 Review Template

Suggestions for Institutions

  • Get familiar with the review template and encourage your data entry team to use it to promote accurate and high-quality reporting.
  • Begin recruiting for reviewer(s) while it is still early  in the report collection stage. 
  • In terms of planning, add at least 30 days of additional time to accommodate a  multi-round review process.
  • Be sure to communicate review expectations with reviewers (e.g., allow spot check versus full review of uploaded inventories, checking some or most rather than all links, etc.

Suggestions for Reviewers

  • Get acquainted with the review template, the technical manual guidance, and STARS resources such as the Help Center
  • Get started as soon as the institution has indicated that the report has been finalized and is ready for your review. The initial review of the report is the most time-consuming, and there are multiple phases.   
  • Be sure to follow the review template and read through the common identified issues as you review each credit.
  • Send your initial review results and give the institution time to address them.
  • Once the institution has addressed your identified issues, conduct a follow-up review of only those credits where you identified issues requiring revision. 

Potential Data Quality Issues

  • To count, the institution must have had a finalized version of its current STARS submission reviewed by one or more individuals not affiliated with the data entry process for the sections they review.
  • If earning the full 1 bonus point, there must be indication that a comprehensive review was conducted by one or more reviewers outside of the institution (e.g., peers at other institutions or a contractor).
  • Completion of the review template is required, and any inconsistencies identified by the reviewer(s) must be addressed prior to submission. (Note: Reviewers may mark this row as Unsure initially since the process has not yet been finalized).

Did you find this article helpful?