Eastern Michigan University in top 5% of colleges in the U.S. for sustainability efforts

University earns bronze STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

The silhouette of a student writing in a notebook surrounded by tall grasses.
A student from Detroit Institute of Technology participates in a place-based inquiry in Rouge Park. (Photo by Leisa Thompson for SEMIS Coalition)

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University has been awarded a bronze STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education. 

Fewer than 25% of U.S. universities have applied for STARS certification, and fewer than 5% have a current certification of bronze or better. 

Eastern Michigan University President James Smith formed the University’s President's Commission on Sustainability in 2018 to address sustainability matters. The Commission adopted STARS as the framework for fostering sustainability at EMU to measure, document, and publicly communicate the University’s level of sustainability. 

Tom Kovacs, professor of Meteorology, Interdisciplinary Environmental Science, and Society Geography & Geology, serves as the chair of the president’s commission on sustainability. “Sustainability can be defined as the principles and practices that promote and maintain the responsible use of natural resources by current generations to ensure the availability and well-being of those resources for our future generations,” Kovacs said. 

In the STARS rating, EMU was acknowledged for immersive experiences and for using the campus as a living laboratory, which allows students to witness and learn in-depth about sustainability changes and solutions.

Sustainability examples include:

  • Biology professor Katy Greenwald is the program coordinator for Environmental Science and Society (ENVI) undergraduate program. The ENVI program promotes academic engagement concerning human-environment interactions and sustainability through teaching, research, and service.

  • Professor Ben Ilozor teaches within the construction management program and uses EMU’s campus and built environment as a teaching laboratory. 

  • Christopher Gellasch, associate professor of Hydrogeology, Hydrology and Environmental Science Geography & Geology at EMU, tracks contaminants in the groundwater at Fish Lake. Gellasch’s research combines aspects of hydrogeology and environmental engineering to asses pathways contaminants could migrate through the subsurface and impact public supply wells or surface water bodies.

  • John Oswald, associate professor of Political and Urban Geography & Geology at EMU,  uses the co-generation energy source to examine EMU’s energy production and our on-campus recycling and trash usage. 

  • EMU’s community partnership with Ethan Lowenstein, professor of Teacher Education at EMU and Southeast Michigan Stewardship (SEMIS), earned EMU full credit in the engagement category of the STARS rating. According to the SEMIS website, SEMIS brings the art and craft of place-based education into core practices in schools and advocates for transformational changes to K-12 institutions, colleges, and universities so that all living systems may thrive in sustainable, healthy, and just communities.

With more than 900 participants in 40 countries, AASHE’s STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance.

The President’s Commission has worked on this initial STARS report for more than four years and officially submitted the report for the first time this year.

“Since this is our first submission, we have room for improvement in all four main categories: academic, engagement, operational, and planning and administration. We welcome everyone in the University community to work with us to improve sustainability campus-wide and our STARS score in the near future,” Kovacs said. 

Visit the Sustainability Framework webpage to review the full STARS rating report. 

About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 14,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and its graduate school. National publications regularly recognize EMU for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. Visit the University’s rankings and points of pride websites to learn more. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website. To stay up to date on University news, activities and announcements, visit EMU Today.

January 18, 2023

Written by:
Nautica Marshall

Melissa Thrasher