Northern Michigan University's STARS rating, determined by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education as a measure of universities' performance related to sustainability, advanced to silver in 2020 from bronze three years ago. The rating system factors in academics and research, operations, administration/planning and engagement.
Sarah Mittlefehldt, NMU Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences professor and representative on the Sustainability Advisory Council, said the improved rating is likely attributed to several key factors, but increased engagement through EcoReps in particular. EcoReps is a student sustainability peer to peer education program.
“The NMU Board of Trustees recognized the value of the program and, at one of its meetings, committed financial support to run it,” Mittlefehldt said. “With that boost and [PR professor] Jes Thompson's leadership, the program grew dramatically. EcoReps created and coordinated sustainability programming that reached more than 4,800 students.
"Student leaders organized a survey and got support for a campus Green Fund, which the Board of Trustees recently passed. Students now have the option to pay a $5 fee to support sustainability programming. They can opt out of it, but only 803 opted out this semester, while 5,517 students opted to support sustainability on campus.”
In academics, departments offering sustainability-related courses increased from 62% to 80% in three years. The number of departments with at least one faculty member doing sustainability research jumped from 38% to 68%, and nearly 25% of NMU tenure-track faculty are doing related research. Mittlefehldt said these statistics support the passion for sustainability that permeates the campus community.
What might it take to achieve gold status between now and when the next ratings are announced in 2023?
“It would take something pretty big to move up to gold,” she said. “So a while back, when the university was seeking ‘big idea' proposals to possibly present to external donors, our submission for a sustainability hub on campus rose toward the top. We're all volunteers on the committee, and can only work on sustainability beyond our regular jobs. Our hope is to secure external funding to support a director for the hub and to pay students for leadership development through EcoReps. This would really bring sustainability to the next level at Northern.”
Mittlefehldt and other NMU Sustainability Advisory Council reps will deliver NMU's Sustainability Audit Update at noon Friday, Oct. 16, via Zoom link https://nmu.zoom.us/j/94667563546