WPI Proves to be one of Academia's Biggest Sustainability 'STARS'

Media Contact
July 09, 2009

WORCESTER, Mass. – Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has scored high on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) Pilot Survey, for its academic, philosophical, and capital investments in becoming a “green” campus. WPI's overall score of 58.01 was significantly higher than the 40.3 average overall score of the 37 national participating universities in the “Large Doctorate-granting Universities” category.

"WPI is proudly engaged in – and deeply committed to – sustainability. Through our teaching, research, service, and administrative operations we strive to model the three tenets of sustainability: environmental preservation, economic prosperity, and social equity for all members of society," said John Orr, Provost, Senior Vice President and leader of the President's Task Force on Sustainability at WPI. "Because we are actively fostering a community that produces innovative ideas and practical solutions for making our world more sustainable, we believe that it is important for our classrooms, project centers, and our daily operations to feed that sensibility. Completing the STARS Pilot Survey helped us to create an inventory of all that WPI is doing for our students -- as well as for our campus and the global community. Our high score on this survey provides us with some perspective on how we're doing overall, and we are delighted to know that we are on the right track."

The STARS survey was created for colleges and universities to be able to recognize and gauge relative progress toward sustainability. The survey is divided into three main categories: education and research, operations, and administration and finance; WPI scored well above average in each. Colleges and universities are encouraged to use STARS as a method for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education; enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions; create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability; facilitate information sharing about best practices and performances; and build stronger, more diverse campus sustainability communities.

Last fall, members of the President's Task Force on Sustainability completed the detailed STARS Pilot Survey, providing information about WPI's curriculum, research, outreach programs, recycling efforts, dining services, energy consumption, transportation, investment strategies, master planning, and community service. A total of 37 universities from across the country participated in the pilot survey– including the University of California system and New York University. When compared to the other schools, WPI scored 52 percent in the education and research category (29.5 percent was the average); 45.9 percent in operations (30.9 percent was the average); 61.4 percent in administration and finance (54.8 percent was the average); 4 percent in innovation (1.9 percent was the average); and WPI's overall score was 58.01 percent, compared to the 40.3 average.

The high scores recognize WPI numerous sustainability initiatives. One especially impressive example of the university's commitment is the establishment of the President's Task Force on Sustainability at WPI, which serves to drive a “sustainability sensibility” into WPI's academic, research, and administrative endeavors. And in February 2007, WPI's Board of Trustees voted to endorse a policy calling for all future buildings on campus to be environmentally friendly and LEED-certified structures.

To date, WPI has installed the city of Worcester's first “living green roof” atop the university's newest residence hall, East Hall. In June 2009, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded East Hall Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification; the university opened its first LEED-certified building – the Bartlett Center, home to WPI's admissions and financial aid offices, in 2006. Furthermore, investments made in Gateway Park LLC, a partnership between WPI and Worcester Business Development Corp., has transformed an area of abandoned buildings and contaminated properties in the city of Worcester into a thriving, award-winning site for life sciences research and economic development.

Earlier this year, WPI's Dining Services staff members balance the purchases and use of local suppliers with procurement capabilities, safety, and national contracts. Where possible, WPI uses local suppliers in all dining facilities. Currently, 27 percent of food is locally purchased. The university also provides Fair Trade-certified coffee, cage-free eggs, and sustainable fish species, and our dining halls are trayless. As well, food waste has been reduced, since WPI now donates scraps to a local hog farm.

WPI's energy consumption decreased between academic years 2005 and 2006 by 6.8 percent when the university switched from oil to gas in its main power plant. Timers and an energy management system are used to regulate temperature base on occupancy hours. LED lighting is used throughout campus, and incandescent lighting has been substantially reduced. WPI reduces carbon emissions from transportation by participating in a Colleges of Worcester Consortium bus system, a police-operated van service, and reserved campus parking spots for hybrid vehicles. Last fall, WPI partnered with Zipcar – an environmentally friendly alternative to keeping a car on campus. In addition, a bicycle storage area is located at East Hall. WPI has also expanded its recycling program to include aluminum, glass, and plastic returnable and non-returnable containers.

Academically, WPI launched last year a Bachelor of Arts program in environmental studies; the first degree was awarded at the May 2009 Commencement. The major is designed to educate future environmental professionals with the knowledge and skills that will cross boundaries and foster thought leadership in this important area. In addition, WPI offers an environmental engineering major, and the university's commitment to sustainability can also be seen in the project work being done by WPI students and professors at sites around the globe.