GVSU recognized as top performer in sustainability

By Karina Lloyd | 11/15/17 9:55pm

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GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Austin VanDyke (right) and Skyla Snarski (left) work the fields on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015 at the Sustainable Agriculture Project.

The 11th annual Grand Valley State University Accountability Report, released Friday, Nov. 3, details the university’s overall performance. One area in which GVSU has been nationally recognized is sustainability.

This year alone, the university has received extensive attention for the progress made with sustainability on campus. These achievements include being named a top performer by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and being dubbed “One of America’s Environmentally Responsible Colleges” by the Princeton Review.

The AASHE is the organization that the GVSU Office of Sustainability Practices reports to annually. The organization looks at the university’s work and progress in sustainability based on data measured by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). The categories that are analyzed include education and research, operations, planning, and administration. The process of participation is tedious, as there are 900 questions to be answered based on the STARS data system.

“It’s a really great process to go through so we can do a gap analysis and see where our strengths and weakness are, and then we can address some of our weakness,” said Yumiko Jakobcic, campus sustainability coordinator at GVSU. “Our first time doing it was around 2009, and we (received) silver (status), and ... we have steadily increased our scores since then.”

This year, GVSU improved its score from 66.05 to 70.80, maintaining its highly acclaimed gold status. In 2013, GVSU was the first Michigan university to receive the highly acclaimed status. The Princeton Review as well as the Sierra Club, an environmental organization in the U.S., will then use this status to rank GVSU against other schools in Michigan in their publications.

GVSU was also recognized in the AASHE 2017 Sustainable Campus report.

“(The SC report) looks at individual categories and some of the high performers there,” Jakobcic said. “So we were recognized in the waste minimization category. ... They also rank some of the top performers overall, and we were ranked seventh in the nation in the Master’s Institutions category.” 

GVSU’s journey to become aware of sustainability issues as a school began in 2005 when former university President Mark Murray began the discussion about sustainability with GVSU staff and faculty. Murray made the decision to conduct a sustainability assessment to see what could be done to further this idea.

“That really started us on our journey, which now is in our 12th year,” said Norman Christopher, executive director of the Office of Sustainability Practices. “It was really based on the full triple bottom line of sustainability, which means there are metrics around economic factors, environmental factors and social factors. So, the distinctive piece here was we did not choose to look at sustainability with the term 'green'. ... We looked broader.”

In 2009, GVSU did another report looking into progress that had been made in sustainability practices since the initial discussion. 

“I think (how GVSU looked at sustainability) really changed about 2009 when sustainability became a core value to the university,” Christopher said. “So then it became not an activity or a program but really a lifestyle.” 

Sustainability became the seventh core value of GVSU. Along with this came more incentives and programs through student organizations and the Office of Sustainability Practices. As a result of this change in focus, today the office has a vast amount of resources to keep sustainability a priority at GVSU. 

One area the office is focusing on is education. GVSU offers a series of classes that offer education on this topic. The classes not only focus on issues of sustainability, but they are also based in business and liberal arts that incorporate aspects of sustainability to widen the audience learning about sustainability practices. 

“We try to incorporate (sustainability) through all aspects of the campus,” Jakobcic said. “Our belief is if we are going to have people make lifestyle changes for sustainability, we really have to help them understand why those changes would be important. We try to weave sustainability into all areas of the curriculum.”

As a result, students who are not studying sustainability for their degree are able to gain a basic understanding of the subject by taking classes related to their own course of study. According to Christopher, there are more than 250 courses related to sustainability currently available at GVSU. Often, including it in the education can then result in a lifestyle change for all students involved in these courses. 

To get involved with the Office of Sustainability Practices, GVSU community members can visit the office at 260 Lake Michigan Hall on the Allendale Campus or email the staff at sustainability@gvsu.edu. 

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