Report reflects QU’s underwhelming progress toward sustainability

Cat Murphy, Associate News Editor

Data published in March 2022 by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education identified deficiencies in Quinnipiac University’s approach to sustainability.

AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System enables colleges and universities to evaluate and score their sustainability performance.

The point-based STARS rating system awards universities with bronze, silver, gold and platinum ratings, though institutions can opt to submit unscored reports that do not qualify for performance ratings.

Per AASHE’s website, the self-reporting system measures an institution’s sustainability across four major categories: academic programming, community engagement, campus operations and planning and administration.

Quinnipiac, which submitted its first AASHE report in March 2022, earned a bronze STARS rating in April of that year.

Bethany Zemba, vice president for strategy and community relations and member ex-officio of the Quinnipiac Sustainability Implementation Committee, noted that the university’s AASHE STARS initiative required “a tremendous amount of work.”

“There had never been anybody at the university paying attention to sustainability in a cohesive way,” said Zemba, who previously worked at Yale University’s School of the Environment. “I think they always cared about sustainability, but it wasn’t centralized in the way that (President Judy Olian) made it centralized.”

We had the discussion internally: ‘Do we wait until we can get to the highest rating?’ We said, ‘No, let’s start where we can start, and then we can build off on that.’

— Bethany Zemba, Vice President for Strategy and Community Relations

The university, which earned 56.65 of 202 available points across the four key credit areas, received a cumulative score of 28.04 out of 100 on its STARS report.

“You have to start somewhere,” Zemba said. “We’re just scratching the surface of what we can be and what we can become.”

Quinnipiac earned nearly half of its 56.65 total points for its sustainability curricula and research. Likewise, the university earned just under one-quarter of its points for its administrative sustainability planning.

However, Quinnipiac earned less points in the diversity and affordability subcategory than any other institution in Connecticut with a published STARS report, earning only 5.39 of the available 10 points.

Although the university received full credit for its diversity and equity coordination, Quinnipiac earned zero points for its diversity and equity assessment processes and less than half of the available points for its support for underrepresented groups.

The university earned only 6.09 of 41 available points in the engagement category, receiving no points in eight of the 15 subcategories pertaining to its sustainability outreach efforts.

Quinnipiac also received just 9.13 of 70 available points in the operations category, which measures the sustainability of the university’s everyday processes.

The university received a zero in the air and climate subcategory because Quinnipiac officials did not disclose the university’s emissions.

“I would say that the main reason that we didn’t do it is because we didn’t have the right technology in place,” Zemba said. “So, a lot of what we’re working on this year — and it’s in progress — is figuring out how you capture data.”

Zemba wrote in an email to the Chronicle that the university’s future AASHE STARS reports will include more data and will “show progress over time.”

Quinnipiac also earned no points in the building subcategory because none of the university’s existing building space was designed, constructed or maintained with sustainability in mind, according to the university’s report.

The wind turbines on Quinnipiac University’s York Hill Campus failed shortly after university officials installed them in 2008. (Jack Muscatello)

Similarly, the report revealed that Quinnipiac obtained just 0.0001% of its electricity from solar panels located on the York Hill campus in 2019.

Although the wind turbines on the York Hill Campus seem to advertise sustainable energy, Quinnipiac does not obtain energy from any other on-site, clean and renewable sources, according to the report.

The wind turbines, which university officials installed in 2008, failed soon after being introduced 15 years ago.

“They don’t work,” Sal Filardi, vice president for facilities and capital planning, told the Chronicle in 2018. “When you go up there do you see them turning?”

The report noted that Quinnipiac’s new Recreation and Wellness Center, which had not yet been opened at the time the report was published, would be certified using the LEED rating system, the most ubiquitous green building assessment system.

Zemba added that each of the three new buildings being constructed as part of the university’s $293 million South Quad project will also be LEED-certified.

As of publication, Quinnipiac has the fourth-lowest published STARS score of 288 universities internationally with active ratings, according to AASHE. 

However, AASHE requires institutions to earn a minimum score of 25 to qualify for a performance rating and, notably, does not publish reports that receive cumulative scores below this threshold.

“STARS only provides positive recognition,” AASHE states on its website. “Each seal represents significant sustainability leadership.”

Quinnipiac’s STARS report is ranked in the bottom 2% of more than 1,400 STARS ratings published by AASHE since the report’s initial release in 2010, though it is unknown how many unpublished reports received scores lower than 25.

“We had the discussion internally: ‘Do we wait until we can get to the highest rating?’” Zemba said. “We said, ‘No, let’s start where we can start, and then we can build off on that and we can show room for improvement and growth.’”

Quinnipiac also earned the lowest published STARS rating of any AASHE member institution in Connecticut.

Infographic by Lindsey Komson

Connecticut College, Eastern Connecticut State University, the University of Connecticut and Yale University each earned STARS ratings that more than doubled Quinnipiac’s score.

Three other in-state colleges and universities — the University of New Haven, Trinity College and Wesleyan University — have historically received higher sustainability scores on the STARS report than Quinnipiac, though the most recent STARS rating for each of these three institutions expired within the last year.

Fairfield University, Southern Connecticut State University and Central Connecticut State University are each registered to use the STARS system but have not earned a rating.

Notably, the state of Connecticut in 2022 assessed Quinnipiac more than $8,800 in fines for violations of the Clean Air Act at the university’s Mount Carmel, York Hill and North Haven campuses, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement case reports.

Keith Woodward, associate vice president for facilities operations, told Zemba in an email that the university was fined under the CAA for recordkeeping deficiencies rather than for a specific pollutant.

“The fine was for record keeping and reporting because the University’s records were not complete,” Woodward wrote in an email communication Zemba provided to the Chronicle. “The University did not exceed any air pollution emission standards and remained in compliance with all other air pollution regulatory requirements.

Quinnipiac boasts its bronze STARS rating on its website alongside the university’s 2023 listing in The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges.

The Princeton Review, which is directly partnered with AASHE, compiled the 2023 list of 455 “environmentally responsible schools” following a review of more than 710 universities, according to its website.

Although Quinnipiac is not listed among The Princeton Review’s top 50 sustainable colleges, the university promotes its “featured school” listing in the Guide to Green Colleges. The Princeton Review clarifies on its website that “schools marked ‘featured’ have paid a fee for this designation.”