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ND honored for sustainability

Abi Hoverman | Thursday, September 8, 2011

Notre Dame’s sustainability practices rank among the top 91 higher education institutions in the US and Canada, according to a recent Silver rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS).

Notre Dame voluntarily participated in the evaluation as a charter member after the program’s founders, the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), approached them last summer, said Erin Hafner, programs manager for the Office of Sustainability.

“We saw STARS as a tool to evaluate where we are as far as sustainability goes, and to push us to continue to improve, because it helps us to see some of the areas where we’re lacking,” she said.

According to AASHE, the comparable nature of STARS encourages cooperation between universities in developing sustainability programs across the country. Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability was created in 2008.

“[Sustainability coordinators] hold conferences annually, call each other and ask how their programs work on their campuses,” Hafner said. “It’s a collaborative atmosphere in sustainability. There are many universities that still don’t have sustainability efforts.”

The University failed to receive STARS top Gold rating for a variety of specific shortcomings on the survey, which Hafner said are being addressed before STARS reevaluates in three years.

“We have a fairly new sustainability program,” Hafner said. “Some of the areas they look at we don’t have robust programs in yet.”

In the education category, Notre Dame received only 3.13 out of 20 points for Sustainability Focused and Related Courses. Hafner said that because the survey was completed in August before the fall semester began, the new Sustainability Minor was not considered.

“Any majors or minors will help us. I only foresee this area growing in the next few years,” she said. “There are lots of professors interested in research and teaching in this area so these programs will only continue to grow.”

Notre Dame also scored poorly in Building Energy Consumption, which Hafner said would be improved with upcoming renovations, such as retrofitting heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting systems, paid for with a conservation investment.

“We are in the middle of a $10 million investment in energy conservation measures,” she said. “By the time the survey comes around again we will be able to see an improvement [in building efficiency].”

Points were also missed in the Clean and Renewable Energy category.

“We’re still trying to find how renewable energy fits Notre Dame,” she said.

Hafner said the University currently has thin-film and traditional solar panels on the roofs of Fitzpatrick and Stinson-Remick Halls, in addition to the new wind turbine on top of the power plant. The projects will be evaluated to see which energy sources work best in this region.

Looking forward, Hafner said she is hopeful Notre Dame will continue to improve in sustainability to join institutions like Duke, Emory and New York Universities in a STARS Gold rating after the next evaluation.

“We will be able to develop these programs so in three years we will be able to check the ‘yes’ boxes on the survey,” Hafner said. “We’re going to still work towards our main goals of reducing our carbon footprint, reducing the amount of waste we use, and educating about sustainability.”