Cornell's efforts as a sustainability leader can be found in every corner of the university.
For example, in the research realm, faculty members are exploring algal bioreactors for biofuel production, while others are examining how sustainable food systems might provide urban areas with regionally sourced food.
On the administrative level, the university's commitment to campus sustainability was formalized in the 2010-15 strategic plan. Cornell has institutionalized sustainability with its Climate Action Plan (CAP), the Sustainability Office, and the President's Sustainable Campus Committee (PSCC), which oversees all campus sustainability-related operations, with 10 areas each managed by a team of staff, faculty and students.
And as the state's land-grant university, Cornell has a long history of public engagement, especially through Cornell Cooperative Extension, which currently offers energy and climate workshops to help New Yorkers make better energy choices.
Cornell's attention across the board to "green" endeavors has now earned the university a STARS gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to compare themselves with their peers and to provide benchmarks for improvement. It is the only comprehensive, peer-reviewed sustainability assessment tool designed for higher education. As of Jan. 30, Cornell was one of 24 schools to receive gold out of 152 schools submitting reports. No school earned a platinum rating.
"As a charter member of STARS and a signatory of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, Cornell University is profoundly committed to sustainability," wrote Cornell President David Skorton in a letter to AASHE, endorsing Cornell's sustainability self-assessment report. "The STARS process is helpful as we make sustainability-related decisions and monitor our progress," he added.
"The gold rating is symbolic of Cornell being in the leading edge of schools taking sustainability seriously," said Dan Roth, associate director of the Sustainability Office. "It certifies that we are making progress, and points to where we can improve." Sustainability Office administrator Careen Arsenault spearheaded gathering detailed metrics from across campus in areas pertaining to education and research, operations, planning, administration and engagement.
Some highlights that helped Cornell achieve the Gold ranking include:
"Many universities have an energy center, an environment center and economic development centers, but at Cornell we bring the three together to find sustainable solutions that address these interconnected themes," said Frank DiSalvo, ACSF director. "It's the right way to make a difference and have impact in today's complex world."