Shoemaker Green


Penn’s Environmental Sustainability Performance Rates at Gold Level in STARS

April 12, 2018
Penn College Green

Widely used benchmarking system rates universities in five sustainability-related categories.

The University of Pennsylvania has completed its STARS survey for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and has received a Gold Rating for its 2017 submission, according to the University’s Sustainability Office. The STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) survey is a comprehensive benchmarking system developed and overseen by AASHE, and is used by more than 800 colleges and universities on six continents to evaluate their environmental performance.

STARS is a transparent, point-based system with categories spanning all aspects of Penn’s academics, operations, and administration. The 2017 submission used FY17 data and was assembled by the Penn Sustainability Office, with input from multiple sources across the university. Penn has earned a Gold Rating, which is explained in detail on AASHE's website,

“A Gold Rating in STARS for Penn is particularly satisfying since environmental sustainability is a priority for our President, Amy Gutmann, who signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007, the first Ivy League president to do so,” explains Penn Facilities & Real Estate Services Vice President Anne Papageorge. “Penn’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee has transformed the sustainability initiatives on this campus since 2007, and in particular since the 2014 launch of our Climate Action Plan 2.0.” The Climate Action Plan is the university’s roadmap for environmental sustainability, and version 2.0 established challenging new goals for expanded educational opportunities for students, enriched support for faculty research, teaching, and collaboration, and campus performance.

Penn Top 5 High Scores

Of the 91 credit areas in STARS, there are five in which Penn earned an exceptionally high number of points: 

Coordination and Planning

  • Penn received significant points for its strategic planning efforts to guide the university’s sustainability practices and policies.
  • Penn earned points for having a comprehensive Climate Action Plan, an Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC), a full-time Sustainability Office, and the participation of students and external stakeholders in the university’s governance structure.

Diversity and Affordability

  • Penn received points for its structured assessment process to improve diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, as championed in President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020.
  • Additional points were earned for its student, staff, and faculty training programs related to diversity and equity, its support structure for underrepresented campus groups, and its commitment to affordability and access—especially for low income and non-traditional students. The Penn Compact 2020, which motivates community members “to innovate, be radically inclusive, and positively impact their local, national, and global communities,” was also featured within this section.


Penn received points for its transportation resources and sustainable commuting incentives offered to students, staff, and faculty, as well as the efficiency of its fleet vehicles, including:

  • Discounted SEPTA passes
  • Occasional Parking Passes
  • Penn Bus East, West, and Lucy
  • Car- and Van-pool
  • Bike Commuter Reimbursement
  • Emergency Ride Home Program.

Campus Engagement

In this section, Penn earned points for its campus sustainability culture and the programs, activities, and publications available to students, staff, and faculty, including the following peer-to-peer sustainability education and outreach programs, student and employee orientation materials, and for its promotion of environmental sustainability through social media, newsletters, websites, and campaigns:

  • Student Eco-Reps
  • Green Living Certification
  • Resident and Graduate Assistant Sustainability Training
  • Staff and Faculty Eco-Reps
  • Sustainability Coordinators in Schools and Centers
  • Campus-wide sustainability campaigns, including ReThink your Footprint and Power Down Challenge.


Innovation in sustainability policies, programs, or outcomes

The innovation credits are reserved for new, extraordinary, unique, or uncommon outcomes, policies, and practices that address sustainability challenges and are not covered elsewhere in the STARS survey.  Penn submitted for all four available credits:

  • Arboretum Status: Penn's main campus was designated as an arboretum under the international ArbNet certification program, and joins a select group of urban campuses recognized for exceptional tree collections, maintenance, and landscape stewardship. Only 23 universities, 6 of which are urban, have earned such designation.
  • Century Bond Program: The Century Bond program is designed to finance projects in which deferred maintenance and energy efficiency converge. In 2012, Penn issued $300 M in bonds of which $200 M are allocated to deep-energy retrofits of high-energy-use campus labs and academic buildings. To date, six projects have been completed and are meeting their performance goals for energy saving and reductions of carbon emissions.
  • President Gutmann's Engagement and Innovation Prizes:   As part of the Penn Compact 2020, President Amy Gutmann established the President's Engagement and Innovation Prizes in 2014.  The monetary prize of up to $100,000 empowers Penn seniors to design and implement projects during their first year after graduation, putting their knowledge to work for the betterment of humankind.
  • Health and Wellness at Penn:  As part of the Executive Vice President's commitment to the health and wellness of the Penn community, a number of initiatives have been instituted across the university. The innovative programs listed for staff, faculty, and students focus on work-life balance, healthy lifestyles, fitness, and mental health support.


“Although the STARS survey responses are, by definition, a record of past accomplishment,” says Penn’s Sustainability Director Dan Garofalo, “It is the intention of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee and the Sustainability Office to use this survey as a tool to improve areas where our scores are lower, and to build on the successes where we excel.”

The 2017 submission is the second one prepared by Penn using the STARS tool. In 2014, Penn’s responses earned the university a Silver Rating. While an improvement, it should be noted that because AASHE has made a number of changes to the rating system categories and formulas since Penn’s 2014 submission, a direct comparison of our two reports is not possible. Detail on the differences between the 2014 tool and the 2017 tool is available upon request


Penn Sustainability is a University-wide initiative to advance environmental sustainability at the University of Pennsylvania, and coordinate programs to develop a more sustainable campus. The new name, Penn Sustainability, represents a transformation of the group formerly known as the Penn Green Campus Partnership, organized in 2006. Penn Sustainability is clearer, simpler, and more inclusive of the initiatives led by the Sustainability Office and more explicitly encompasses Penn’s extensive sustainability initiatives in academics, energy conservation, transportation, waste minimization, purchasing, engagement, outreach, and physical environment.  For more information on Penn Sustainability, visit

AASHE is the leading association for the advancement of sustainability in higher education. It serves a full range of higher education faculty, administrators, staff and students who are change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation. Established in 2005, AASHE is comprised of over 900 members across 48 U.S. states, 1 U.S. Territory, 9 Canadian provinces and 20 countries. To learn more about AASHE and STARS, visit

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