Pioneering clean energy projects, an aggressive carbon-reduction strategy and North America’s greenest building have helped the University of British Columbia to garner Canada’s first gold rating in a new international program that assesses sustainability achievements in higher education.

A gold rating is the highest achieved to date in STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System), a sustainability evaluation tool developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), with broad participation from the higher education community through self-reporting.

To date, 117 institutions – including eight of 22 participating Canadian universities – have received ratings, such as the University of Ottawa, the University of Calgary, Simon Fraser University and Dalhousie University. STARS inaugural ratings are currently scheduled to be completed in August 2012, although institutions can register to be evaluated on an ongoing basis.

“I am pleased to see our sustainability leadership recognized by STARS, which offers an important new tool for measuring sustainability performance in higher education,” says Prof. Stephen J. Toope, UBC President. “This achievement is due to the passion and innovation of UBC’s community, which is transforming our university into a living laboratory where scholars, researchers and operations staff collaborate to address global sustainability problems.”

STARS is the only program of its kind that involves publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Unlike other rating or ranking systems, STARS is open to all institutions of higher education in the U.S. and Canada, and the criteria that determine a rating are transparent and publically accessible. STARS ratings are valid for three years, but institutions may submit for new ratings as often as once per year.

UBC’s score places it among North America’s top-five most sustainable universities both among institutions with 30,000-60,000 students and universities ranked in the recent Times Higher Education rankings. Out of 264 North American institutions that have registered to participate in STARS to date, 22 institutions have achieved a gold rating.

UBC’s STARS rating was based on the performance of its Vancouver campus in three categories: Education and Research, Operations, and Planning, Administration and Engagement. The university’s score received the maximum-available “innovation credits” for four initiatives:

  • Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability: $37-million centre, expected to be North America’s greenest building when it officially opens in November, will be a hub for research and action on the world’s most-pressing sustainability issues.
  • Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Project: $27-million, first-of-its-kind project to generate energy for the campus from biomass such as wood chips and beetle-killed pine when it opens in 2012.
  • Greenest City Scholars Program, an innovative program that sponsors 10 UBC graduate students to work with the City of Vancouver each summer to help meet the university’s and the city’s environmental goals.
  •  UBC Sustainability Initiative, which works collaboratively to integrate UBC’s academic and operational efforts in sustainability.

In 2010, UBC announced some of the most aggressive carbon-reduction targets among the world’s top 40 universities. These include a reduction of institutional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2007 levels by 33 per cent by 2015, 67 per cent by 2020 and 100 per cent by 2050. UBC academic buildings exceeded Kyoto Protocol targets by 2007, despite a 48 per cent increase in enrollment and 35 per cent increase in size.

AASHE, an association of more than 250 colleges and universities, is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing sustainability among higher education institutions. For more information, visit:

August 19, 2011