Every section of wild grass on campus means one less time a mower runs. Every food scrap in the cafeteria’s compost goes back into the earth. Many drops of water in a Rec Center shower are heated by the sun.
Each of these efforts, along with others, helped Goshen College earn a silver rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) report.
The STARS report, a sustainability rating system created by the Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education, measures a school’s commitment to green efforts on their campus.
According to Glenn Gilbert, utilities manager and one of the principle people behind the report, the rating comes from a self-evaluation conducted by the college. Goshen first used the system in 2010, receiving a bronze rating. Four years later, the reports show that sustainability has improved.
“You’re motivated to get as good a rating as you can,” said Gilbert. “The tool helps to see where the institution can make improvements. Sustainability is central to what we do now.”
Since 2008, the campus decreased its carbon footprint by about 22 percent; created a native landscaping initiative, which turned 12 acres of campus land into prairie grasses to reduce mowing and improve habitat; built a solar hot water system for the Recreation-Fitness Center; began a community garden project; and started a food composting system for the cafeteria.
The college also began purchasing 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, including wind and solar power, in 2013, a step that reduces GC’s carbon footprint by 45 percent.
The college has also developed more academic courses related to sustainability, with 20 courses focused on the topic and 17 more with a green component, said Gilbert in a press release.
The STARS report rates schools in areas such as energy consumption, air and climate quality, sustainability classes and research, transportation, water use and waste minimization.
GC is one of the first schools to complete the STARS new rating system and is one of only seven colleges and universities in Indiana to have earned a STARS silver or gold rating.
The process was measured by the college’s Ecological Stewardship Committee, chaired by Jim Histand, and by students from a class called Roots of the Environmental Crisis, along with several student interns.
Joanna Epp, a sophomore environmental science major and a leader of EcoPAX, was one of the interns behind the project. She worked closely with Gilbert and Histand to conduct interviews, as well as compile and enter data into the rating system.
“I believe that sustainability is incredibly important at GC and everywhere, because it involves everyone,” said Epp.
“Practicing sustainability is a way to ensure that future generations, be it of the world in general or at Goshen College, will be able to enjoy some of the same wonderful places, people and things that we do today.”
In looking ahead to further improvement, Gilbert said work will concentrate in developing written policies that can provide evidence for the college’s green practices. According to an online press release, some of the college’s commitments, such as using recycled paper and green cleaning supplies or serving local food in the cafeteria, are not written in stone and thus, cannot be measured.
“It’s important institutionally to have a written commitment,” said Gilbert. “We have pretty good practices but we need to develop more policies.”
“A lot of campus had no idea we were doing this. It would be nice to think that every department has a role in sustainability efforts, that we’re all interested in how it comes out.”
Gilbert also hopes sustainability will become central to Goshen’s core values. “It’s not part of the big five yet,” he said, “but I hope someday it will be.”