By Jessica Mize
UH Office of Sustainability Manager Sarah Kelly represented the office and the University as a whole at this year’s TRACS summit.
Organized by the Texas Regional Alliance for Campus Sustainability, the event, now in its third year, was held March 2-3 at Texas Tech University. Sustainability professionals from universities across the state gathered to network and discuss many topics including campus bike programs, tailgating recycling plans and composting.
Kelly, who also served on the summit’s planning committee, along with the help of Ben Kalscheur from Texas A&M University, covered another hot button subject that directly impacts campus sustainability programs – processes and strategies for completing the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) report.
Something Kelly and Kalscheur have both been involved in with their universities, the report, which is a program within the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), is a self-reporting framework that assesses sustainability efforts on campuses across four categories including academics, planning and administration, engagement and operations to give institutions of higher education a better idea of how their sustainability efforts measure up.
The last time UH completed the report, the school earned a Silver ranking, and that’s what they’re pulling for when they file their results this go round. While STARS is a great benchmarking tool for the industry, Kelly admits that it can be an intimidating project, especially because the assessment covers so many areas.
“It’s a bit of a daunting process,” she said. “As a full report, STARS is very time consuming, and you need to have a good plan in place to complete it. That’s what we were trying to communicate to everyone at the summit.”
Attendees were receptive to the presentation and made sure to take note of the different approaches they could use in their own reporting efforts going forward.
“I think the attendees were receptive to hearing about the tips, tricks and tactics used by other universities during this process,” said Kelly. “Our presentation gave them a chance to assess and reevaluate their current methods and possibly try something new.”
Kelly was the only representative from UH at this year’s summit, but she hopes to have more fellow Cougars in attendance next year, when it is set to take place in the south Texas area.
“Events like these are so beneficial because you have one-on-one interactions with people who are just as passionate about campus sustainability as you are,” she said. “Conversations lead to organic ideas that could potentially improve a school’s program, and that’s wonderful because regardless of our college or university affiliation, we’re all working toward the same goal of implementing sustainability initiatives and educating our campus communities.”
In addition to attending next year’s summit, Kelly also encourages other members of the UH community to get more involved in TRACS in general. The organization, which formed in 2008 at an AASHE conference in North Carolina, is currently accepting nominations for its executive committee. Interested individuals have until Friday, March 13, to apply online.
“Texas is unique from everywhere else in the country, and that’s a big reason why TRACS was formed,” said Kelly. “We’re working hard to bring forth change, and if we can help make sustainability in a campus environment a priority, in Texas of all states, you can just imagine what kind of progress we can make on an even larger scale.”