Saint Mary’s Scores Gold Sustainability Award

Professor and students in Legacy GardenSaint Mary’s College is thrilled to have achieved Gold for its performance, accomplishments, and achievements in campus sustainability. Designated as a Gold STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) institution by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the College earned the highly coveted ranking based on factors that also included viewing sustainability with a lens on environmental justice.

STARS is the protocol used to measure and encourage sustainability in higher education. The STARS process is not new to Saint Mary’s. The College first participated in STARS in 2014 and achieved a Bronze rating, and in 2016, the College was awarded Silver for its sustainability efforts. Being awarded Gold is a clear indication and declaration of the College’s dedication, hard work, and commitment to sustainability. “Saint Mary’s has made significant progress in its commitment to the environment and lowering our carbon footprint, and as can be seen in our new STARS rating, we are continuing to find innovative ways to take that commitment even further,” stated James Donahue, president at Saint Mary’s College.

Saint Mary’s is among more than 900 participating colleges spanning 40 countries that publicly report comprehensive information related to their sustainability performance. The five areas of performance measurement include: academics; engagement; operations; planning and administration; and innovation and leadership.

 “Being awarded a Gold STARS rating is a huge milestone and proves that our significant and steady progress over the years is making a difference,” said SMC Sustainability Director Ann Drevno. She added, “This accomplishment highlights all the great sustainability work across campus—from energy efficiency upgrades, to integrating sustainability into the curriculum, to student engagement initiatives. We have also launched Saint Mary’s Climate Action Plan, which is another achievement and testament to the College’s commitment to this important work.”

Drevno shared that paying attention to environmental justice is a critically important part of sustainability because environmental and climate justice is also racial justice. “Sustainability is, simply, the ability to exist continually, and if you care to imagine a better world, to thrive. Every being requires a basic set of conditions to sustain oneself. When these basic conditions—or existence itself—are abused or taken away, communities are rendered unsustainable,” said Drevno. She expressed that sustainable human communities do not remain silent in the wake of social unrest. “Sustainable communities are ones that engage deeply in issues of systemic racism, white supremacy, and police brutality.”

For example, Black people are disproportionately prone to asthma and other respiratory illnesses due to chronic air pollution, toxic waste facilities, and other environmental degradations in their communities. “While they may not make headline news, illnesses and deaths related to systematic anti-Black racism occur every single day, and many are environmental in nature,” said Drevno.

Drevno is a devoted champion of sustainability and environmental justice, and she believes that the generally held definition of sustainability needs to be disrupted to ensure that it includes issues of justice and social equity. “The Free Store is a great example. It offers free clothes, school supplies, and books to all students; donated by fellow students, staff and faculty. The Free Store is a cornerstone of our sustainability programs. It touches on all aspects of sustainability, not only the environmental aspect because we’re diverting waste from the landfill, but also the equity piece in that people that might need supplies are gaining access. But we also need to acknowledge that this is a band-aid to a larger structural problem that needs to be simultaneously addressed—why don’t all students have access to basic school supplies in the first place?”

Taken together, the College’s being awarded the Gold Sustainability Award along with its recently approved Climate Action Plan are an endorsement of the hard work undertaken by the sustainability committee and campus sustainability champions. Their efforts were instrumental in the research and data collection efforts in responding to the five aforementioned measurement areas. The team put forth an amazing effort that resulted in the College’s receiving the Gold STARS rating.

Another benefit of Saint Mary’s receiving this distinction is the opportunity to attract students that want to attend a college that is committed to environmental practices, education, sustainability, and environmental justice. “Many high school students now are looking for colleges that provide student engagement opportunities and academic offerings on issues that they care about, such as climate change and social justice,” said Drevno. She would like to work more closely with the Admissions Department to highlight the College’s courses, programs, and engagement opportunities in this space, which she believes will attract more students to Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s Climate Action Plan sums up the College’s commitment to the environment by tackling the climate crisis with moral leadership. To quote part of the plan’s mission: “Saint Mary’s has a bold vision of sustaining an environment where all people have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and access to resources to live a healthy life. As one of the early signatories of Saint Francis’ Pledge, an initiative of the Catholic Climate Covenant, and responding to our Lasallian, Catholic Mission to live in and act as a community, Saint Mary’s has long been committed to the responsibility of caring for our common home. We do this by protecting our common resources and advocating alongside communities who face the harshest impacts of global climate change.”

Congratulations to Saint Mary’s for its commitment to environmental sustainability and to the sustainability committee for receiving a Gold STARS award.