Lipscomb is first in state to test a new sustainability rating for its operations

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Association hopes rating will become the “LEED” for university campuses

Beginning this month, Lipscomb University becomes the first university in the state of Tennessee to test a new rating system designed to measure just how “green” a college campus can be.

Drills boring holes for geothermal heating systems have become common on campus. Geothermal, which heats and cools buildings using water pumped up from the water table, saves hundreds of thousands in energy costs.
Lipscomb is among 93 colleges and universities across the nation selected as pilot campuses to use the new STARS rating system in a self-examination measuring overall sustainability on campus. Everything from operations to curriculum, from civic engagement to financial stewardship are gauged by STARS, developed by the 440-member Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The association hopes that STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) will one day become the standard for measuring “green” campuses, much as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED system has become the standard for “green” building construction in America.

Lipscomb is excited to be an integral part of making that happen by putting a microscope on its own operations, said G. Dodd Galbreath, executive director of Lipscomb’s Institute for Sustainable Practice, which will oversee the self-exam process over the course of the next year.

“Higher education has a responsibility to advance improved ways of living. In fact, universities have historically served as laboratories of social change. But currently, no objective standard exists for defining or measuring sustainability on college campuses," said Galbreath. "Many of the measures in the STARS rating system originated with the primary customers of universities, college students. Universities across the nation desire to learn and grow with their students and communities as we all embark on this new journey of sustainability.”

Lipscomb established the Institute for Sustainable Practice this past fall and since that time, has embarked on:
  • The construction of an academic building expected to become LEED certified;
  • The construction of a more energy efficient and healthier student residence hall;
  • Development of the state’s first green business summit and product expo to be held in April;
  • Instituted green housekeeping; and
  • Established a campus-wide recycling program.

“Before this audit test opportunity came about, we had decided that an audit would help us define and better communicate to faculty, staff and students why we sought change,” Galbreath said. “Our goal is to compare what we are doing now to what can be done better for ourselves, our grandchildren, the community and our planet.”

The STARS self-assessment officially launched Feb. 4. The 93 participating campuses were selected to represent a wide range of institutional types, sizes, and geography. They include public and private schools, community colleges and research universities, said Judy Walton, AASHE’s acting executive director.

In the pilot STARS system, campuses earn credits in three categories: curriculum and research, operations, and administration and finance.

The STARS rating system awards credits for:

Energy-efficient buildings
Sustainability-focused investment
Sustainable planning
Programs promoting foot traffic
Use of Green Seal products
Non-potable water for irrigation
Local and organic food sources
Civic engagement
Fair wages
And hundreds more.

While many institutions have undertaken sustainability assessments and there are a variety of assessment tools available, there is currently nothing that translates the many possible sustainability measures into one system, enabling campus-to-campus comparisons and learning lessons from each other, said Walton.

“The launch of the pilot phase is a major milestone in the development of STARS,” she said. “It has taken nearly two years of hard work and the contributions of hundreds of individuals from every sector of the higher education community to bring us to this point.”

For a list of participating institutions see:

For a copy of the Pilot Phase One Guide, including criteria to earn credits in the operations and administration and finance categories, see: