STARS Sustainability Rating System Upgrades Drexel 

Marked changes that Drexel has implemented in sustainability practices — and reporting on them —over the last three years have earned the University a Silver ranking.
STARS Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System Silver Award logo
Drexel's STARS Silver logo. 

From changes in how Drexel Park is managed to updates on reporting sustainability efforts, the STARS (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System) program has guided enhancements to Drexel University’s green endeavors in ways both small and mighty, visible and invisible. 

After three years of tweaking, updating and strengthening the University’s sustainability efforts, Drexel has risen from a Bronze rating to a Silver, reflecting changes in daily sustainability practices, campus outreach and education. It’s a way for the University’s team to measure how much of an impact sustainability practices are making, and how efficiently the University makes use of those practices. 

STARS is an Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) self-reporting program that promotes transparency and knowledge-sharing. Jen Britton, executive director of sustainable development strategy, brought it to Drexel in 2020 when she and Lucy Kerman, PhD, now a retired adviser for University and Community Partnerships, were first talking about how to build an institutional sustainability strategy for Drexel.

“I thought we needed to understand where we were and do some benchmarking, and from there I started to learn more and found out about STARS,” Britton said. “On first glance, it looked super comprehensive. It’s a compendium of best practices and it had a learning network, so it felt like a good fit.” 

One of the first things the initial team did together was generate Drexel’s first STARS report, which earned the University a Bronze rating. Drexel earned more points in 2022 but retained a Bronze rating. The current team is Britton, Executive Director of Climate and Sustainability Bo Solomon and co-op student Charlotte Meader, environmental studies and sustainability ’25.

Solomon said the team found many sustainability practices the University was already doing, but not reporting. By recording those practices, the STARS score went up, as documentation is important to the system. STARS is fully transparent, so the Drexel team can look at reports from other institutions, read what they’re doing and share knowledge. 

“We’ve gotten some great advice and mentorship from the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Sustainability,” Britton said. “When we need to, we can reach out and get direct advice on something. Each year, we need a little less hand-holding and that kind of collective support is a strong part of STARS.”

This year, Britton said they are starting the process of updating the number of courses with sustainability content, as well as Drexel’s greenhouse gas inventory, more commonly known as an institution’s “carbon footprint” (with help from Real Estate & Facilities).

“This year it's going to be a lot of trying to improve around the edges of what we're already doing, and documenting things a little better, but the push to gold will mean we will need some additional big steps forward,” Britton said. 

Many of the changes are relatively small and unnoticed day-to-day, but there are more visible changes as a result of the STARS system, too. Scott Dunham, director of grounds maintenance, along with Kacy Gao, biological sciences ’25, a student involved with Drexel’s sustainability-focused student organization EcoReps, are switching Drexel Park to native, organic lawn management, which can decrease care costs and increase soil health. 

The STARS team has also been getting the word out about sustainable solutions like hydration stations on campus as well as engaging with students via EcoReps, EarthFest and Welcome Week activities to cultivate a culture of sustainability. STARS encourages engagement with the campus community, so the team has focused on that. 

As part of her co-op, Meader has been working on a Sustainability Literacy Assessment, which would test students’ knowledge on sustainability initiatives to see how the University could improve in engagement, education and implementation. 

Meader has also worked on a Sustainable Office Audit. When it launches, it will get students from EcoReps involved to audit offices around campus. One person from an office would act as the liaison and communicate with the EcoReps about the audit, which would involve student assessments of different offices’ practices. For example, does an office use disposable K-cups in the coffee maker? Do people use single-use plasticware for lunch? Is printing minimized?

“We’ve learned how difficult it can be to make change because you have to get so many different groups to buy in, but it’s very rewarding to make that change,” Meader said.

To make those changes — and eventually become a Gold-rated leader in sustainability in higher education — it will be important to focus on collaboration from teams, offices and stakeholders from around the University. 

“There’s just so much a team of three can’t change on our own, and we have been able to create change, but for Drexel to be able to identify as a sustainability school, we have to engage the whole University,” Britton said. 

To engage with the sustainability team and find out more about Drexel’s work on improving climate and sustainability at the University, visit the Sustainability website.