A national nonprofit that empowers higher education institutions worldwide to lead the sustainability movement has named Sacramento State a top performer in its just-published 2016 Sustainable Campus Index.

Sacramento State is the only California school recognized as a top performer by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The University was singled out for the ongoing maintenance and operations of existing campus buildings – many at Sac State date to the 1950s – and the design and construction of new buildings (including the LEED-certified American River Courtyard and The WELL).

And in another nod to the University’s sustainability commitment, Sac State was ranked No. 3 overall among master’s institutions (schools that award at least 50 master’s degrees and fewer than 20 doctoral degrees annually). The 2016 Sustainable Campus Index marks the first time that overall top-performing schools are recognized by institution type.

STORC tourEnvironmental Studies students Rob Hogan, left, and Nino Prieto care for basil plants in the greenhouse at the Sustainable Technology Optimization Research Center. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Sac State bested two other California schools in the master’s institution top 10: Santa Clara University finished fifth, and CSU Northridge was ninth.

And the California State University recently gave Sac State its system-wide best practice sustainability award for the University’s innovative closed-loop project, which takes food waste from the Dining Commons and converts it into clean fuel for the Hornet Shuttles. 

“Our continued success regarding sustainability is the product of students, faculty, and staff coming together around common issues and working as a team to come up with new and innovative ways to reduce our campus’s environmental impact,” says Ryan Todd, Sacramento State’s sustainability manager.

The Sustainable Campus Index highlights top-performing colleges and universities in 17 categories, as measured by the AASHE program called STARS (the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System), a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to track their sustainability performance.

In May 2016, Sacramento State earned a STARS Gold Rating – and a score of 72.18 out of a possible 100 points, the highest in the CSU – for its sustainability efforts and successes. Not only was it the third-highest score for a master’s institution, but it put Sacramento State in elite company among the 400 colleges and universities in nine countries that have earned a STAR rating.

Sac State’s application to STARS was eight months in the making and required input from faculty and staff across campus, along with members of the Sac State Sustainability team. The result was a 273-page online document detailing the University’s efforts to support ecological balance.

Sac State earned high scores in campus engagement, curriculum, and research, and was awarded full points for innovation, which highlighted the aquaponics initiative and other projects at STORC (the Sustainable Technology Optimization Research Center).

In addition, Sac State was the first U.S. university to institute Refuel Your Fun (a propane tank-refilling program) and the first in California with a pharmaceutical take-back program. And last spring, University President Robert S. Nelsen signed Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment, joining other university and college leaders nationwide who pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.

“Sacramento State’s strong performance demonstrates significant leadership and commitment to advancing sustainability,” says Meghan Fay Zahniser, AASHE’s executive director. “We are pleased to recognize Sac State for working to secure a thriving, equitable and ecologically healthy world by incorporating sustainability into campus operations, administration, engagement and academics.” – Dixie Reid

In the media:

"Farm to fuel: Sacramento State using waste as resource," CBS 13