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UMBC receives silver rating in international sustainability analysis

In March, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County was awarded a Silver rating for its sustainability efforts from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Over 900 institutions of higher education throughout 48 states, one U.S. territory, nine Canadian provinces and 20 countries belong to the AASHE, which provides resources to support in advancing sustainability in all aspects of institutions.

The rating came from AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, a tool that “measures and encourages sustainability in … higher education,” according to its website. Ryan Kmetz, the assistant director of sustainability at UMBC, explained STARS as “a sustainability-focused system, it does not only assess environmental factors but also social and economic factors.” Each STARS score is valid for three years.

Kmetz described the process of applying to STARS as “very labor-intensive,” citing around 70 categories of questions requiring data on the purchasing of environmentally preferable electronic products, student and employee commuting behavior and even information related to the institution’s accessibility to low-income students. Kmetz and his team began gathering data in September 2019 and submitted the report in February 2020.

Kmetz is no stranger to the STARS application process. Before coming to UMBC, he worked at two other institutions of higher education and has prepared three STARS reports since 2015. Of those three, two were submitted and both were given Silver ratings. In January, Kmetz was selected to serve on the AASHE Advisory Committee for a two-year term. 

Based on his previous experience, he estimated that UMBC would fare “somewhere on the border between a Silver or Gold rating,” so he was not surprised with the results. “We integrate sustainability really well into the academics/research and planning/admin categories,” Kmetz explained over email. He also noted that UMBC received full points for Innovation and Leadership, which means the university’s sustainability practices are “above and beyond the ‘industry standard.’”

Since receiving the report, the Sustainability Office has started on a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, or SWOT, analysis of the report to identify areas of improvement for the next STARS report. Kmetz stated that the university is almost finished its new climate action plan and many of its goals align with the report.

“One great example is the percentage of renewable energy,” he said. “As we ramp up to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050, we will also see an increase in points in STARS.”

In addition, Kmetz and his team will discuss the results with UMBC’s Climate Action Steering Committee to identify areas of improvement for the next report. There are many stakeholders across the university who play a role in improving UMBC’s sustainability efforts; Kmetz was able to rattle off over twenty different departments and institutions including the registrar, the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Baltimore Gas and Electric.

Of over 300 institutions that have been rated, only five received the highest rating of Platinum: Colorado State University, Stanford University, Thompson Rivers University, University of California, Irvine and University of New Hampshire. One hundred and twenty-four institutions received Gold ratings, 141 received Silver ratings and 54 received Bronze ratings.

Students can access the STARS report on the UMBC Sustainability Matters website. The results of the report will also be included in the US News and World Report’s Green School Rankings and the Sierra Cool Schools report, both of which are released in the fall. 

Katie Poteet is a third-year student studying political science and global studies. She previously served as the assistant news editor of The Retriever.