Posted February 21, 2024

Temple earns STARS gold for sustainability accomplishments

The university improved upon its 2021 silver rating and earned recognition as a leader in campus sustainability.

Image of staff from the Office of Sustainability.
Photography By: 
Joseph V. Labolito
Staff from the Office of Sustainability collaborated with partners throughout the university in putting together the STARS report. Pictured: Bryce Forys, sustainability coordinator (left); Rebecca Collins, director of sustainability (center); and Caroline Burkholder, senior sustainability manager (right).

Temple University has earned a STARS gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), a distinction which recognizes accomplishments in campus sustainability. The rating is the highest honor Temple has earned since it began participating in the program in 2015. 

Temple is one of just 149 universities to earn a gold rating out of the more than 600 institutions that participate in STARS, and it is one of two Philadelphia schools to earn gold. 

“This rating is a testament to our commitment to continuous improvement in the area of sustainability,” said Ken Kaiser, senior vice president and chief operating officer. “We often associate sustainability with the environment, but it also encompasses education, access and equity. At Temple, we have a holistic approach to sustainability, and our excellent STARS rating is evidence of that.” 

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) encourages schools to advance sustainability efforts in all aspects of their operations. STARS ratings use self-reported data to score institutions in categories such as academics, research, engagement, innovation and leadership, and operations. With participants in over 40 countries, STARS is the most widely recognized program in the world for publicly reporting a college or university’s sustainability performance. 

“The foundational element of Temple’s STARS rating are achievements related to sustainable operations,” said Rebecca Collins, director of sustainability. “Our gold achievement is built off previous successes and focused on growing partnerships to amplify Temple’s commitment to sustainability research, academics, planning and administration, and engagement.” 

Collins and her staff at the Office of Sustainability spearheaded key new initiatives that helped Temple better track its sustainability efforts and improve upon its 2021 silver rating. 

Chief among these was a new initiative to better measure the volume and impact of sustainability research conducted at Temple. 

The Office of Sustainability expanded its search requirements for sustainability research to align with criteria from the United Nations and from AASHE, which helped the university achieve a more comprehensive list of research with a sustainable impact. 

“We knew we were doing all of this awesome, impactful research about equity and sustainability, but we were previously using a much narrower definition for what constitutes sustainability research, and it wasn’t representative of how active Temple truly is in this space,” said Caroline Burkholder, senior sustainability manager from the Office of Sustainability. 

The office also reviewed curricula from each of the university’s schools and colleges, as well as the general education program, to evaluate the incorporation of sustainability competencies within degree program descriptions and learning objectives. The review helped the Office of Sustainability get a better understanding of how many graduates receive sustainability-related instruction during their time at Temple. 

Collins and Burkholder said they also plan on working with academic leadership to integrate sustainability into more learning outcomes throughout the university, something they believe will make Temple graduates even more employable. “So many disciplines are thinking about climate change as a defining challenge for people in every sector, so this type of instruction really helps our graduates with career readiness, too,” Burkholder said. 

Collins added that students also gain career readiness and leadership skills through the Office of Sustainability’s peer education program, EcoReps. “Bryce Forys, sustainability coordinator, has done a tremendous job facilitating leadership and engagement opportunities for students involved in our EcoReps programs,” she said. “Through EcoReps, students are empowered to lead impactful and community-focused events for their peers. Increasing student leadership and engagement opportunities also contributed to our gold rating.” 

The Office of Sustainability also made updates to its transportation survey to help assess sustainability culture at Temple. Administered every three years, the transportation survey gathers information about how students, faculty and staff commute to Temple’s campuses. The survey has historically been helpful in measuring emissions produced by Temple commuters, but new to the 2022 survey were questions about perceptions, beliefs and behaviors related to sustainability. 

“Many students, staff and faculty strongly agree that Temple has a responsibility as a leader in sustainability and environmental justice, specifically,” Burkholder said. 

In response to this, a Sustainability at Temple webpage was added to the undergraduate admissions site. The Office of Sustainability is also working on offering more professional development opportunities related to sustainability for faculty and staff, and it will continue to look for other ways to support and promote sustainability culture at Temple. 

The STARS gold rating is just the latest example of Temple’s commitment to sustainability. In 2008, Temple signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, and in 2016 it signed the White House’s Campuses Act on Climate commitment and the Second Nature Climate Leadership statement. 

And in 2019, Temple reaffirmed its commitment to sustainability by developing its second-generation Climate Action Plan outlining goals for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. 

“Temple’s gold rating is a testament to the commitment of Temple leadership, staff, faculty and students to integrate sustainability into our campus culture,” Collins said. “Through continued collective action, I am confident Temple will continue to strengthen our sustainability program and bring us closer to achieving our carbon neutrality commitments.” 

View our 2022–2023 Sustainability Annual Report for more information about sustainability at Temple.