Academic Programming Elevates College's STARS Rating

“People would expect that environmental science courses at Saint Joseph’s College are addressing sustainability issues, but they might be surprised to learn about all of the other departments that are addressing an even broader definition of sustainability,” said Kimberly Post, Director of Community-Based Learning. 

With its recent upgrade to a Silver Star Award in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Ratings Systems (STARS) from the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Saint Joseph’s College has taken significant strides toward its institutional sustainability goals. Developments in academic programming played a key role in elevating the College’s rating in this national framework. 

Business Ethics Class- group photo in hallwayTake the Business Ethics course, for example, and the Life Cycle Assessment assignment that students were given by Assistant Professor Mary Engel. “The Life Cycle Assessment helps student to understand the complexity of the everyday products that we use and their effect on the natural environment. When they conduct an objective analysis of a product, they are learning how to help contribute to an organization’s efficiency, bottom line, and social commitments,” Engel said.

Photo caption: Business Ethics course students after their Life Cycle Assessment presentations.

Justin Karageorge ’18, Zach Glanville ’18, and Danny Fox ’18 decided to analyze the long-term costs of adopting a turf field versus continuing with a grass athletic field as this was a choice that Saint Joseph’s College recently faced. They compared costs, environmental impact, and relation to sports injuries, to name a few factors. With respect to comparative costs, their report concluded, “We have found that the turf field costs more up front, but in the end with all of the maintenance that a grass field needs, turf is cheaper than a grass field. Annually the turf costs around $3,000, compared to the $40,000 in maintaining the grass.” Other student projects assessed the life cycles of food products, office supplies, electronics, and fertilizers which are used on campus.

The number of courses in Saint Joseph’s College’s curriculum that addresses diverse aspects of sustainability has grown to include 82 undergraduate courses, nine graduate courses, and a minor in sustainability. 

In addition to its curricular development in sustainability, other criteria, including diverting solid waste into recycling and reuse programs at the end of the school year, buying green electricity, and operating a hydronic farm also led Saint Joseph’s College of Maine to earn a Silver Star Award.  

As a Sisters of Mercy institution, the College grounds itself in both the Sisters’ Critical Concern of Care for Earth and their Mercy Taking Action, a commitment to social justice and advocacy. The institutional commitment to sustainability broadened with President Jim Dlugos’ signing of the Presidents’ Carbon Commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 and has expanded into a campus-wide Civic Action Plan in which the College commits itself to deepening civic and community engagement and enhancing its public purpose. 

Each of the College’s 1,000 campus students must enroll in the Core course Environmental Science 300: Ecology and the Environmental Challenge. This course teaches basic ecological principles, the major environmental challenges facing the planet, and potential solutions to these challenges. ES300 students learn about the adverse effects of the large-scale, industrial form of agriculture that dominates modern food production and, through hours of hands-on farm experience, learn what it means to produce food with less fossil fuel dependence. 

Stars Silver badgeAbout the College’s new STARS designation, Kimberly Post said, “We began using STARS about five years ago when we joined AASHE and realized that using this tool could help us to assess and further institutionalize our sustainability initiatives across our campus. Our first submission, which we completed over three years ago, earned us a Bronze rating based upon sustainability efforts that were already in place. We since have used the guidelines and standards from STARS to enhance our sustainability work at SJC and engage a broad cross section of the campus in these efforts. The adoption of the STARS standard to guide us has been a key strategy of our sustainability, in addition to our Climate Action Plan and commitment to carbon neutrality by 2035.”

Saint Joseph’s College supports the strong tradition of sustainability in Maine, joining the College of the Atlantic and Colby College on the list of higher education institutions who have distinguished themselves with a commitment to sustainability.

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