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NMSU's sustainability efforts earn gold rating from national sustainability organization

New Mexico State University recently moved from bronze to gold in a very important field: sustainability.

Six people raise their arms happily after learning that NMSU's sustainability rating has moved from bronze to gold.
Members of NMSU's Sustainability Council celebrate after submitting NMSU's second Sustainability Tracking Assessment Reporting System report and learning of the gold rating the report received. Pictured (left to right) are: Katrina Doolittle, joni newcomer, Emily Kelley, Jared Dial, Steve Self and Suzanne Montes. (Courtesy photo)

NMSU, along with other schools, businesses, government agencies and nonprofits around the world, is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. This organization strives to empower institutions of higher education to lead sustainability transformation through education, professional development and support.

One way AASHE works to increase sustainability awareness is through its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. STARS is a self-reporting tool for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. NMSU's first year of completing a STARS report was 2011, and the institution received a bronze rating. This year, NMSU jumped from bronze to gold, a laudable achievement according to AASHE Executive Director Paul Rowland, a 1988 NMSU alumnus.

"The rapid movement from STARS Bronze to STARS Gold is a clear demonstration of NMSU's commitment to becoming a leader of campus sustainability," said Rowland. "I am personally pleased to have supported the NMSU Sustainability Fund so that this kind of progress continues. It would great to see my alma mater become the first STARS Platinum institution. Go Aggies. Go Green."

joni newcomer, NMSU environmental policy and sustainability manager, spearheaded the STARS report effort, with help from the Sustainability Council and many other people across campus. The group scoured the campus for information about sustainability themes in courses and research, sustainability-themed clubs and organizations, sustainability education outreach to the community and also compiled data about NMSU's energy and resource consumption.

The three main categories of information collected in the STARS report are education and research; operations; and planning, administration and engagement. Additional credits are granted for innovative programs or initiatives.

"The STARS report helps us analyze where we've been by tracking our successes and noting what we can do in the future to further sustainability efforts on campus and in the community," newcomer said.

Some of the initiatives that newcomer and the Office of Sustainability she manages plan to focus on in the future are energy use reduction on campus, climate education, food education, an increase in green building and renovations, transportation issue awareness, waste reduction, water use reduction, materials and renewable energy awareness and implementation. Another effort is in building relationships to better communicate sustainability concerns and efforts, and to get more people involved in the work of creating a more sustainable future.

"Compiling this report was a team effort," newcomer said. "To me, organizing the STARS team, with a broad group of people from across the campus community, including faculty, staff and students, was key in our success. We couldn't have done this without the dedicated work of all involved."

newcomer's main goals for the coming year are to raise awareness of environmental issues in general and teach the community how to change in order to create a more sustainable future.

"Achieving STARS Gold is an outstanding achievement for NMSU and clearly reflects our sincere commitment to campus sustainability," said Angela Throneberry, NMSU senior vice president for administration and finance. "The significant progress made in our ranking since last year is very exciting and it helps recognize the hard work of many contributors. We look forward to the continued advancement in our sustainability performance."