Sustainability Rankings and Accreditations: A Guide for Colleges and Universities
March 18, 2023

Sustainability Rankings and Accreditations: A Guide for Colleges and Universities


Environmental sustainability has become critical in higher education as institutions recognize the need to address climate change and reduce their environmental impact. Colleges and universities play a crucial role in promoting sustainability by educating future leaders on the importance of sustainable practices, implementing eco-friendly measures on campus, and researching environmental issues. Many institutions, such as AASHE, LEED, and the American Campus Act on Climate Pledge, pursue rankings and accreditations to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)

AASHE is a non-profit organization that empowers higher education institutions to be leaders in sustainability through resources, professional development, and a supportive network. By becoming a member of AASHE, colleges, and universities gain access to sustainability resources and tools, networking opportunities with other sustainability-focused institutions, and discounts on conferences and workshops. One of AASHE’s key initiatives is the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. STARS evaluates institutions based on four categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration. To participate in STARS, institutions must register for the program, collect and submit data on their sustainability practices, and subsequently receive a rating based on their performance. Ratings range from Reporter to Platinum, reflecting the level of sustainability achieved. Some notable institutions with high AASHE STARS ratings include the University of California, Irvine (Platinum), Colorado State University (Platinum), and Stanford University (Gold).

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED certification is important for campus buildings because it demonstrates a commitment to sustainable construction and operation practices, reducing environmental impact while enhancing the well-being of occupants. There are four levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, awarded based on the number of points a building earns across various sustainability categories. Colleges and universities can pursue LEED certification by engaging in sustainable design and construction practices, working with LEED-accredited professionals, and submitting their project documentation to the USGBC for review. Some notable LEED-certified campus buildings include the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley (Platinum), and the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability at the University of British Columbia (Platinum).

American Campus Act on Climate Pledge

The American Campus Act on Climate Pledge is an initiative in which colleges and universities are committed to supporting strong international climate action and demonstrating leadership in sustainability. By signing the pledge, institutions acknowledge the importance of their role in addressing climate change and express support for global efforts to limit global warming. Benefits of signing the pledge include increased visibility and recognition as a leader in sustainability, access to a network of like-minded institutions, and the opportunity to share best practices and resources. Signatory institutions have made various commitments, such as setting ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, increasing the use of renewable energy, and integrating sustainability into their curricula. Colleges and universities interested in joining the pledge can submit a commitment letter outlining their specific sustainability goals and initiatives.

Other noteworthy sustainability rankings and accreditations

In addition to AASHE and LEED, colleges and universities can pursue several other noteworthy sustainability rankings and accreditations. The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges highlights institutions leading the way in sustainability based on factors such as sustainability policies, programs, and initiatives. The Sierra Club’s Cool Schools ranking also recognizes institutions’ sustainability efforts, emphasizing climate action and energy conservation. The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings assess universities’ social and environmental impact based on various indicators, including sustainable development goals, climate action, and responsible consumption and production.

Incorporating sustainability into campus life

Incorporating sustainability into campus life involves implementing sustainable practices and fostering a culture of sustainability among students, faculty, and staff. Examples of sustainable campus initiatives include:

  • Implementing renewable energy sources such as solar panels or wind turbines
  • Reducing waste through recycling and composting programs
  • Promoting sustainable transportation options, such as bike-sharing or electric vehicle charging stations
  • Offering courses and degree programs focused on sustainability
  • Encouraging sustainable food practices, such as offering local, organic, or plant-based options in campus dining halls

Strategies for promoting sustainability among students and faculty include:

  • Hosting sustainability-focused events and workshops
  • Encouraging research on environmental issues
  • Providing incentives for sustainable practices, such as energy-saving competitions or green office certifications
  • Partnering with community organizations on sustainability initiatives
  • Incorporating sustainability into institutional policies and decision-making processes

Encouraging student involvement in sustainability efforts can also be effective, such as through student organizations focused on sustainability, volunteer opportunities, or sustainability-related internships. By incorporating sustainability into campus life, colleges and universities can create a more environmentally responsible and socially conscious community, preparing future leaders to address the pressing challenges of sustainability.

Next Steps

Colleges and universities are important for promoting sustainability and addressing environmental issues. Pursuing sustainability rankings and accreditations provides a framework for improvement and recognition, with rankings such as AASHE, LEED, and the American Campus Act on Climate Pledge showcasing commitment to sustainability.

Sustainable campus initiatives and promoting sustainability among students and faculty are crucial for creating a culture of sustainability on campus. Institutions should continually strive for improvement and seek more environmental and sustainability rankings and accreditations while partnering with sustainability consultants like Veritrove to gain a competitive edge in sustainability leadership. Together, we can work towards a more sustainable future for future generations.


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