Episode 20: Streamlining Sustainability Reporting with AASHE STARS

Julian Dautremont

Julian Dautremont

Guest: Julian Dautremont
Director of Programs, AASHE

Host: Dave Karlsgodt
Principal, Fovea, LLC

Production Assistant: Sarah Barr

From energy use to purchasing decisions, waste management to community engagement, it’s no secret that sustainability is a notoriously broad and difficult to measure concept.

Creating a comprehensive sustainability rating system was exactly the challenge guest Julian Dautremont and colleagues from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) were tackling when the STARS program was born. STARS is short for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System and is the most widely used sustainability reporting system among colleges and universities in the United States. (It’s also the primary metric used to determine the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” ranking each year, in case you were wondering).

If STARS still stumps you or if you’re simply curious about how a broad concept like sustainability can possibly be quantified and compared, join us this episode as Julian guides us through STARS’ creation, current function and challenges, and goals for the future.

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Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:

https://otter.ai/s/fQev9a1bQ9-erFbEGbWWog

Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed. and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you're ready to learn, share, and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt, I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy carbon and business planning firm. In this episode, I talked with Julian Dautremont, the director of programs AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. You'll hear us discuss the history of AASHE and how it has evolved from a small regional network into an international organization. We'll talk briefly about their annual conference and other member benefits. We then transition to a Q&A about STARS, AASHE's sustainability tracking reporting system for colleges and universities. We talked through the origins of STARS, and how it has emerged as a de facto standard for measuring sustainability progress on campuses. We also talked through some of the challenges the STARS team faces, including how to ensure a fair and reasonable scoring system, helping campuses navigate the extensive data collection process, and how the team rolls out new versions of the tool. We end with a sneak peek at what STARS 3.0 might look like as the tool continues to evolve. I hope you enjoy this June 2019 interview with Julian Dautremont. Well Julian, it's great to have you on the podcast today.

Julian Dautremont 1:39

Thanks. I'm glad to be here.

Dave Karlsgodt 1:40

Well, today we're going to talk a little bit about your organization, AASHE. We'll get into the general overview of the organization and who are the members and things like that, and then we can spend a little bit more specific time talking about the reporting that you guys manage through the STARS program. Before we get into any of that, can you just give us a little bit of background on who you are and and then maybe a little bit of high level overview of AASHE the organization itself?

Julian Dautremont 2:03

My name is Julian Dautremont and I'm the Director of Programs for AASHE which is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. And we're a membership-based association of colleges and universities that are working toward a more sustainable future. And so we do the same kind of things that associations typically do, which is really all around helping members learn from one another. So we have an annual conference where members come together to share lessons and experiences firsthand and in person. We have a whole series of online resources and publications; we do a weekly newsletter with the latest news from around the world on what higher ed. is doing around sustainability. We do regular webinars; we do in person workshops. And again, all of it is centered around trying to create opportunities so that campuses can learn from other institutions all around the world.

Dave Karlsgodt 2:55

Can you talk a little bit about how AASHE is different than the many other organizations that play in the broad space of sustainability? I know there are a myriad of other organizations that touch higher ed. in some way. Where do you fit into that ecosystem?

Julian Dautrmont 3:10

Yeah, so there are a ton of really great organizations working in this space, what makes AASHE different is in particular kind of big tent approach, right? So we are not just focused on investment or climate, or any other particular dimension of sustainability--we try to be talking about sustainability across the institution. People often start with us. And then they may also join an organization with a more specialized focus on a particular area that's going to give a little bit more depth in that area.

Dave Karlsgodt 3:39

How did this organization get started? And how old is it, it's, you know, I've been involved with the conference at least for a couple of years now and it seems to have morphed even in the three or four years that I've been involved with AASHE. But give me a little bit of a longer history of where the organization started and how it maybe morphed a little bit over time.

Julian Dautremont 3:55

So AASHE was founded as AASHE in 2006. But we have a bit longer history than that. We actually started as a program of another organization that many of your listeners probably know: Second Nature, which administers the climate leadership commitments. They were founded in the 90s and, at the time, had a broad sustainability focus and had received some grant funding to create a west coast network focused on education for sustainability. So I was at the founding meeting for that, which was in 2002. And out of that meeting, came a loose network of mostly faculty actually, that were interested in these issues. And we called ourselves Education for Sustainability Western Network, and it was just the western U.S. and Canada. And we existed as EFS west for basically four years, when we became independent and adopted the name AASHE in 2006. We were growing capacity and we realized that there was really a need nationally or even beyond that, internationally, for a professional association for the sustainability staff, which was sort of a new and emerging profession at the time, there were not a ton of them, but they were enough that they needed a place to gather. And there wasn't really anyone else filling that role. So we changed our name to be more not regional. So it was no longer the Western Network, it was just the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Ed., and that became official in 2006 and we've been operating under that name since.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:22

If you had to put percentages on your focus in terms of how much is focused on staff versus education versus students versus you know, any other aspect of what you're doing...Is there a way you could break that down for us? Or is that difficult to say?

Julian Dautremont 5:36

It's difficult to say because most of what we do could serve any one of those audiences. So in terms of like, who it could serve, I think it's anybody who's trying to work towards change in higher ed. In terms of who it does serve, which we can quantify, like, who comes to our conference, at least we know, probably about half the people at the conference are sustainability staff. 10 to 15% are faculty. Maybe 25% is students and then the balance is businesses and other professionals in higher ed. who are not sustainability staff or faculty, but maybe they work in student affairs or facilities. But yeah, our core that is the sustainability staff, and then students and faculty are kind of the next big group.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:18

Well, let's talk a little bit about the conference. And I know that you do some retreats, and some other, you know, beyond just the main annual conference, but tell us a little bit about why one would go to that and what you hope to accomplish with that every year.

Julian Dautremont 6:29

Sure, so the conference is annual and this year it's in Spokane, Washington at the end of October and we would love to have folks join us. And the real purpose of the conference is to provide an opportunity for members to share the latest and greatest from their campuses with their peers, and to make connections because often this work can be kind of isolating. Many campuses only have one or maybe two sustainability staff or even somebody who's also doing another job and then takes on sustainability as kind of an additional project. So you come to AASHE to meet your community, your peers, the other folks who are doing this work and to get rejuvenated, to remind yourself why you're doing it, to get new ideas, to get techniques that you can bring to your campus. We try to really emphasize that learning opportunity. So there's going to be tons and tons of educational sessions, got great keynotes as well, poster sessions. We have an expo hall. So it's an opportunity to learn about new products and services that might help you achieve your sustainability goals. So yeah, I mean, the core things education and networking, I think are the main drivers for attendance at the conference.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:34

So it's one of my highlights of the year; I've been I think the four of them now? And planning to go to Spokane; I'm excited that it's only a couple hours away from my home here in Seattle this year, instead of having to go across the country. Let's talk a little bit about some of the retreats or some of the other regional work that you do too, because I know it's not just the annual conference, right?

Julian Dautremont 7:51

Yeah, we do three or four workshops, typically in any given year in person workshops. One is on curriculum. So it's mostly for faculty and how to integrate faculty across the curriculum and build a curricular sustainability program at your campus. There's another, it's called the sustainable professionals retreat, as the name suggests, for sustainability professionals to kind of get together and get trained and change management, get new ideas. Again, it serves a similar function to the conference, but it's more, there's a curriculum to it. Whereas the conference, you come in, in a sense, create your own curriculum. Our workshops have a defined curriculum that each participant is going to come away with. So in addition to the retreat, and the curriculum workshop, we do one on diversity, inclusion and equity and how that relates to sustainability. It's an emerging issue for many campuses and sustainability officers need to understand how that fits in with the work that they're doing and how they can be champions for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then the final one that we've just started doing is on a change management approach called refocus. It's really about trying to figure out how to strengthen the position of the sustainability office within the organization and how to grow support. And so, I think we see within our membership, if you get a sustainability position, there's tons of projects to do. And it's really easy to get caught up in just doing projects, but never really building capacity per se and strengthening the program and gaining influence within the organization. The refocus approach just really tries to encourage practitioners as they're doing the projects, to keep in mind these larger goals, so that eventually you can get to that point where other people at the organization are doing the work for you and you're not doing each project yourself because the job is too big for any one person to accomplish by themselves. They need to be creating a broader culture of sustainability that spreads across the institution. That's really what that workshops about.

Dave Karlsgodt 9:42

Well, thank you for all that background. I think that helps. But I think what we really came here to talk about was the STARS program. And I know the AASHE stars program is considered sort of the gold standard of sustainability tracking for higher education right now. Let's dive into that a little bit. You know, I have a background in software development and have an appreciation for how much blood sweat and tears have probably gone into building the system you guys have today. But can you just start us off with a little bit of background on what STARS is, who's it for, any of the history just for context? And then I've got some more pointed questions for you there.

Julian Dautremont 10:14

Sure, so STARS is an assessment tool that hundreds of campuses use to measure and report on their sustainability performance. It stands for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System. It started in 2006. Well, conversations about it started in 2006. It didn't become a live product until 2009, or technically 10, I guess, is when it officially became official, but really launched in the fall of 2009 is when we first had people sign up to start using STARS. Anyway, that structure of it, it really aims to provide a comprehensive sustainability assessment. So it looks at everything from academics, to operations, to engagement, to the administration and planning. And so institutions collected summit a ton of data about their sustainability performance. It all translates to a score, which then, in turn, translates to a rating. So you can be a STARS gold campus, or STARS Platinum or STARS silver. And as I said, we've got several hundred campuses using it and all their data is public online, so anybody can come and see why an institution was rated the way they were and what data they submitted. So transparency is a key principle for STARS and the methodology is all public as well. And that was important from the beginning because when we started developing STARS, there were a couple other efforts out there that were trying to to assess higher ed. on its sustainability performance, but, in general, they were characterized by significantly less transparency, so people didn't understand why they were ranked the way they were. And that led to some distrust in those systems that we've really tried to build into our system that anybody can see exactly how the score is generated, exactly what the institutions submitted.

Dave Karlsgodt 12:03

That makes a lot of sense, black boxing the information doesn't tend to build confidence does it? So one of the things that I hear a lot, just kind of being in and around campuses, is two things: first of all, it's beloved and everybody wants to get the highest rating possible and there's a lot of support for it, but there's a lot of gnashing of teeth around STARS as well. Namely, just the amount of time it takes for somebody to fill it out and go through that. Can you just speak to that point blank? I mean, this, it's a lot of work, right, to put this together? This is not a light, you know, something you can knock out in an afternoon?

Julian Dautremont 12:36

No, it definitely would take you longer than an afternoon, even if you had most of the data already collected, which most campuses don't. It is a lot of work. And some of that I think is unavoidable. Right, we set out to make a comprehensive and meaningful sustainability assessment and sustainability is a big, complicated topic. And so to do it justice does require some amount of work. And that has been important to ourselves stakeholders that it be meaningful, right? I think even worse than spending a lot of time collecting data would be spending time collecting data and have it mean nothing. So we've tried to really make sure that what is being collected is meaningful, and is helpful, in fact, for sustainability professionals trying to do the job of making their institutions more sustainable. At the same time, we do recognize that that is a major barrier for use of the tool. Many institutions don't have the resources to invest that much in data collection. So it's something we, in every revision, we really investigate any opportunities we can see to simplify the system without losing that methodological rigor. But yeah, the reason it's so much work is because sustainability is a large, expansive topic. And to do a meaningful assessment, we felt like, does in fact require quite a bit of work.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:52

Well, just for those like my friend Greg, who's not in higher ed. at all, who listens to the podcast, just so he understands, like, what kind of questions are you even asking? Is it just about carbon mitigation? Or is it about education? Or what are some of the topics you cover in STARS?

Julian Dautremont 14:06

It runs the gamut. So we've got the curriculum, so what's being taught in the classroom. We've got the research output, what kind of research faculty at the institution are engaged in. All kinds of aspects of operations, so energy, greenhouse gas emissions, building, transportation (both the fleet and how people get to and from campus), purchasing (all the stuff that they buy), grounds, how are the grounds maintained? Waste, of course, water use and stormwater management. Then we also look at campus engagement. So to what extent is there a culture of sustainability? How well are students and employees engaged as part of the program? We look at public engagement. So what is the relationship of the institution with its community? What kind of community engagement programs does it have? Is it working with other institutions around sustainability? Does it have any partnerships in the community to advance sustainability? And we also try to look at the social dimensions of sustainability. So that means the diversity is in there, affordability is in there, socially responsible investing. And there's probably areas of sustainability that we're not broad enough on; we're always getting suggestions that we need to look at a new issue that we haven't yet captured very well. So there is pressure in both directions both to simplify, but also to be more comprehensive, which is a real struggle for us. But it's quite comprehensive already.

Dave Karlsgodt 15:21

So some of those things sound pretty straightforward, especially on the operational side, like how are you getting your energy, for example, those are limited down to a couple of numbers here and there. But when you get into things like culture of sustainability, how do you score things like that, which are inherently subjective?

Julian Dautremont 15:36

That is something we struggle with, actually. So we look at the existence of peer to peer educational programs for students and for employees. And we try to put some metrics around the extent or the size of those programs. You know, like, what percent of the student body do they target, because many campuses will have, like, what they call an eco reps program, where they have people in every residence hall, who are the sustainability educator, and they educate their peers in that residence hall around, you know, how to recycle and how to save energy in their dorm rooms and that kind of thing. But if only 10% of your campus lives on campus, then that shouldn't get counted as much as an institution where they have a program like that, that reaches, let's say, 60% of their campus population. So we try to do some things like that, that make it somewhat quantifiable. But you're right, that it's it's incredibly imperfect. And it's something that is frustrating to us that we haven't been able to come up with a broadly agreeable way of sort of saying this is a strong engagement program. And this is a less strong engagement program. It's not as simple as I would like.

Dave Karlsgodt 16:39

No, it makes sense. But you can at least ask the questions and by asking the questions, then people have to think oh, no, we don't have that type of program, so maybe we should start it or we should think about how to expand it to more students. Or just by asking the question, I suppose you're promoting the idea that's behind it?

Julian Dautremont 16:52

Yeah. And it does give us a sense of who's doing what, which is one of the goals of this tool is to help see who's really a leader in this kind of program, who can I look to for models. So it does provide it, we have this database now, who is doing all these different strategies to try to engage the population. And I think there is a reasonable assumption that if you're doing a lot of these programs, you probably are doing a better job of reaching your campus population than if you just have very few. And again, we don't require you have all of the programs to get all the points, it's usually like a list of of options. And if you do some portion of them, you get all the points for that area. We really try to design it consciously to recognize the limitations of the data that we can get, but still provide some way of at least a common vocabulary to talk about it and to recognize programs that we know campuses are doing to try to impact student engagement on sustainability. So they, whatever they're doing, they should find a way to capture it in STARS in some way and get some credit for it.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:54

Yeah, let's talk about how do you use this information? I think you've alluded to a few things one, sounds like, knowing who's doing what. So I could theoretically contact AASHE and say: Hey, who's incorporated sustainability education into their curriculum, for example, and you guys could give me a list of schools that are doing that?

Julian Dautremont 18:11

Yeah, you probably want to ask a more precise question, because everybody is doing some sustainability in the curriculum. But yeah, actually, you don't even need to come to us, right, we've created a system so, as I said, before, all the reports are online for anybody to view. So you could go report by report and just look at campus reports for ideas. But if you want to take a more holistic look and say, okay, I want to do, let's say, some benchmarking on greenhouse gas emissions per student, or something like that, we have a benchmarking tool. So you can log in, pick the schools that you want to see, and then the data, so it's a carbon emissions per student, and it'll spit out a chart showing all the campuses you selected and what they reported as their carbon emissions per student, both in a visual format, and also a table with the data in a tabular format that you can export to Excel if you want to look at it in a different way. But we're trying to create tools so that users can answer their own questions and do their own research, and then use that information as a tool to help them more effectively advocate for increased investment in sustainability on their campus.

Dave Karlsgodt 19:13

Otherwise, you guys would just be fielding questions like that all day long, I suppose?

Julian Dautremont 19:16

Yeah.

Dave Karlsgodt 19:17

Good. Well, but back to my original question, I guess the ways that you use this information, so it sounds like you can benchmark you can, you know, there's the idea of just filling out the form sort of "it's the journey, not the destination" kind of approach where asking the questions forces an institution to think through all these components. But I know it's also used for other rating systems and there's just the general STARS rating that you do. What are some of the other ways that campuses use the information, or that it gets used outside of that?

Julian Dautremont 19:43

So, yeah, I think the first way that campuses typically use their program is for internal purposes, for planning and identifying where there's opportunities for improvement, where they're strong, how they compare with others. And then they can develop a plan around that like, okay, in two years from now, we want to be this level of the STARS score, or we want to have these programs in place. And that's a huge thing for especially for new sustainability staff. STARS provides a way to get a really good picture of the lay of the land at their institutions. It gives them an excuse, in a sense to talk to almost everybody on campus because you have to talk to a lot of different people to get all the data you need and that's a great sort of way to start making your way around campus and start to identify who might be a good ally, what opportunities there are for improvement, and then make a case to your stakeholders on campus for why you're focusing on one area or another. So that's the first thing. Then as you suggested, there are some pretty big reasons to do it from a recognition standpoint. So you do get the rating from STARS based on your score. The scoring data also feeds into Sierra Club's "Cool School's" ranking. So that's published every year and Sierra magazine. The STARS data also feeds into the Princeton Review's, green rankings, which they also publish a book, a guide degree in colleges, that include a ranking that's based on data that campuses submit through STARS. And then we, at AASHE, publish our own, something called the sustainable campus index, which ranks campus is in each of the categories that we assess in STARS. So you can see the top performers in the energy category, in the investment category, and water, and waste, and all the different impact areas I mentioned earlier. So there's a ton of recognition that comes with it. And our goal with STARS was to help campuses to report and communicate their progress more easily to students and employees because before STARS, lots of campuses were doing their own sustainability reports, but there was no way to make sense of the sustainability report. So again, that's another big reason that campuses do it. And then I think a last one I'll mentioned is on the education side of things. Doing STARS is an educational experience, you can learn a ton from it. And there's some really great opportunities to engage students along the way. And many institutions do either hire students to help with the process, or even use classes as a part of the data collection process. Could be an introduction to environmental studies class or a capstone course, where students actually play a role in collecting the data and entering it into the STARS reporting system. And I think it provides some valuable experiential learning into what it means to try to measure sustainability. What are the strengths and weaknesses of sustainability measurement approaches? And then they learn more about their campus as well, and what's going on in their campus, and potentially how they might play a role in strengthening their institution's sustainability program.

Dave Karlsgodt 22:34

How is STARS set up to avoid campuses just chasing the points? Because I, from what I understand, the points are set up, like, you get a certain number of points for answering yes or no to certain questions. How do you keep people from gaming the system?

Julian Dautremont 22:45

Yeah, it's something we struggle with, right? And it is a real challenge with those type of questions that are just yes/no because it does seem to encourage some out of point chasing. We've tried to create the credit so that if somebody does point chase, it's helpful. They're doing something that will actually advance their sustainability performance. They're not doing something that is just a distraction. So that's part of the answer, is trying to frame credits so that any points that people earn, it's because they've done something useful.

Dave Karlsgodt 23:14

In other words, if you're chasing points, the points are structured such that the things that they get points for are really what sustainability is all about. So you've kind of built that in, is that what you're saying?

Julian Dautremont 23:23

Exactly, yeah. That's the first part of trying to minimize the point chasing. The second part of it is that we also weight the credits within stars so that those things that are more impactful are worth more points. So we're trying to drive attention towards those things where there's a high opportunity for making an impact rather than things that the impact is less clear. So you'll see in STARS, the point value for each credit can vary quite widely. And some things are worth a lot more points and that's because we feel like that particular area and making progress in that credit has a greater impact than perhaps the other credit. So those two things collectively, I think, minimize the dangers of point chasing to a pretty significant extent.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:06

Whereas one that would be impactful, that might get more points than something that's not as important?

Julian Dautremont 24:11

So sure, a great example of credits that are highly weighted are the greenhouse gas emissions. That credit is pretty easy to measure. I know greenhouse gas emissions can be complicated, but relatively speaking, it's a fairly well established methodology for assessing greenhouse gas emissions. And so, any effofrt you make to reducing your greenhouse gas emissions is going to be positive. It's a performance-based credit, so that one is weighted really highly. Something that's weighted less highly on, like, the engagement side; we have some credits that are, in a sense, just a checklist of strategies you've taken or programs you have to engage students and the campus community in sustainability. Each of those items is going to be like a fraction of a point, whereas the energy credit, I think it's more than 10 points. So we really try to put, again, more points on those things where the benefit of a campus improving it's score is going to be higher.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:01

It's interesting, because you're right, a lot of this stuff is difficult to quantify. You mentioned that earlier, but you had to come up with a way of doing it and exposing students to that or exposing, you know, just as many people to those challenges that you already mentioned. So it's not just them beating you up, because STARS isn't perfect, but everybody sort of learning how to operate within a world of imperfect information. I think that's, you know, that's a noble effort, for sure.

Julian Dautremont 25:24

Yeah, and we hope that people who are participating in the process can help us make it stronger, right. So we're regularly doing surveys of our users. We have a whole governance process that includes technical advisors on each of the different impact areas that we cover, and then a steering committee that's partially elected by AASHE's membership and partially appointed in order to fill any gaps. But there are campus sustainability staff and others at all levels of that process, providing guidance to help strengthen the system, and we would not be anywhere close to where we are now if we didn't have that feedback mechanism. It has really made the program stronger every year because of all the ideas and feedback that we get through that structure.

Dave Karlsgodt 26:05

You know, just give us a little bit of color on how it feels to be where we are today. Like, do you feel good about the direction where things are going? Or, you know, where tell us where are you proud of how things have changed and morphed and maybe where are some places that you really see are still big sticking points that you want to improve?

Julian Dautremont 26:23

So I am really proud of how far STARS has come since it was just an idea when we were starting. And we have sort of like, seems like it would be better if there was a measurement tool that we're all using so we could compare with one another and we could talk the same language and we could try to identify, you know, campuses that are really doing great jobs, so we could learn from them. And stars really fulfilled a lot of the early goals that we had. And there were a lot of people, including us at times, that were like are like there's no way to do this. It's too hard, you can't do it fair, the higher ed. is too different, or, you know, there's a range of real challenges that I wouldn't say we've overcome, there's still challenges, but we've found a way to make a tool that worked well enough for a sizable enough body of campuses that it has really started to play the role that we hope it can. So that feels really good. Big picture, there's still room for improvement. Sustainability is not where I would have hoped it would be in terms of higher ed. priorities at this point in time. Right? When we started in the early 2000s, it was just emerging, and there was a lot of excitement and growth. And that growth continued through maybe 2012, 2013, it feels like, before it started to plateau. And not universally, there's definitely still things that are growing, but as a whole, the movement doesn't seem to be growing as fast as it was. And I'm not sure if it's moving fast enough in light of the challenges we're facing. So that is an area that I always struggle with is, there's so much to do to transform our institutions to be fulfilling their potential, to be sustainability leaders that we have not yet got to. And I think there's good reasons for it, it's totally understandable, but at the same time, it is a source of concern.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:05

Yeah. Do you think that just because going from not doing anything to starting to do something feels like a lot of progress, but when you are in the throes of it, the incremental change of day to day changes, or, you know, you're getting a little better every year, but it's hard to see that? Or is it just literally there's been some big walls that you've hit?

Julian Dautremont 28:22

I think it's different in each campus, right? Because I'm not talking about AASHE specifically at this point, but more just the higher ed. sustainability movement. So, I think there's some national political things that have slowed things down for sure, or at least taken attention off of some of the sustainability things we've been working towards, changes in executives and different priorities. It's hard to pinpoint any particular reason. I almost don't think there's anything that is a surprise or anything, like, really wrong, per se, it's just the scale of the problem that we face as a civilization, as a society is so vast that higher ed. is one piece of that and it's still fantastically hard to change at the pace that we need, is really what it comes down to. So it's not that higher ed. is doing anything wrong, or even that it's not changing, because it is changing. It's just, the question is whether it's fast enough. And that's a question that does apply to society at large, it's not just a higher ed. thing. The changes that are needed are vast and it's not clear we're changing fast enough.

Dave Karlsgodt 29:25

So, let's just come back to STARS, then it sounds like, so you've just released 2.2. Is that the current version or something close to that?

Julian Dautremont 29:31

Sorry, 2.1 is the version that is still in effect. 2.2 will be coming out shortly, but it has not yet been officially released yet.

Dave Karlsgodt 29:40

Got it. And then what, like how often do new releases come out? What does that process look like? So, and I guess with that question, if I'm a campus and I fill out 2.1, do I just have to start over for 2.2? Or is that just couple additional questions? Or how does that work?

Julian Dautremont 29:53

Great questions. So there's no fixed development timeline, so new versions come out, in a sense, when they're ready. And the time between each new version has lengthened over time. So I think 2.1 came out in 2016. So we're now 2019. So yeah, like a three year time period, just from 2.1 to 2.2. So there, there definitely is quite a bit of a gap. And then, when we do a larger revision, like what we'll be doing soon from 2.2 to 3.0, those take even longer. I don't think that's going to be... Yeah, I think it's at least 2022 probably before that comes out. Because, so we have within STARS, there's three types of changes. There's what we call administrative changes, which are fixing typos, like literally like tiny things that should have no implication on your score, just clarifications and typos basically or rewording something to try to make it clear what we're asking. Those we can do, sometimes a couple of year, when a new version comes out, just to fix issues that people have brought to our attention. Then we have what we do from like a 2.1 to 2.2. and that is called like a minor revision and there's limitations on what we can do there. We can't fundamentally overhaul the system. We can tweak some credits, add a credit here or there, but fundamentally, it's going to look pretty similar, you know, you're not going to see a huge difference. There'll be a couple credits that did change pretty significantly, but the overall structure is the same and it's pretty familiar system still. And then the big picture ones, the major revisions, they actually need to go through a whole public feedback process before they can be approved. So they end up taking quite a bit longer. And all of them, I should say too, any new version of any three of those levels, all of those changes have to go through the steering committee that I mentioned earlier. They are the final authority on any new version of STARS. So that also helps ensure that any changes we're making are going to be broadly acceptable and and make sense. And it also kind of slows down the process, which I think is probably good because I think there are some legitimate concerns about what happens when we make a change that it complicates things, it's confusing, and people don't like when we change too often. But to answer your question about what happens if you were already in the middle of doing a 2.1 submission, no problem at all. You have a year after we switch. So we will, at some point later this month, we will officially switch to stars 2.2. If you've got 2.1 in progress, you can wait until June of next year and still submit under stars 2.1 and get the rating and scoring of that version. You're welcome to upgrade and we have a tool to migrate any of your data. As long as the fields have stayed the same, your data will all go into the same place in 2.2. And then you'll just have to update. If we've changed the field, you'll have to re enter the data for that field, but we've tried to design it so that it's not too difficult to upgrade and you're not losing any work that was appropriate for 2.2.

Dave Karlsgodt 32:50

Got it. No, that makes I don't envy you managing that process as a, like I said, software developer in background I...Yeah, keeps me up at night trying to think about how to keep all that stuff in line because people don't like it when things break, but it sounds like you at least trying to address that and smooth it out as much as possible.

Julian Dautremont 33:06

Yeah, exactly. We do what we can to make it a smooth process and to minimize the transition costs.

Dave Karlsgodt 33:13

If somebody wanted to get involved with that steering committee, is that something that you recruit? Or how does that process work?

Julian Dautremont 33:18

Yeah, every fall we have sort of a governance nomination or application process. And with the STARS steering committee in particular (because we're also looking at the same time, I should say, for candidates for our advisory council, which is where the STARS technical advisors sit, and then our board as well, so the these three different kind of governance bodies: board, steering committee, and the advisory council). We recruit for them all around the same time. It's an online application. The STARS one, as I mentioned before, there are elections, so people will be invited to stand for election to join the steering committee. And the election typically happens in November. And then whoever's selected will start on the steering committee the next January. And depending how many seats are available, there may be a couple appointed positions as well and that would be, we usually appoint from the pool of people who ran for election. And often it's the runners up, but sometimes there's a reason that we want to make sure we have some perspective represented and so the steering committee will then decide, okay, let's go, let's invite this person to join the steering committee as well. But the entry point for somebody who's not on the steering committee right now is to watch out for that solicitation in the fall and put your name forward. You'll have to submit like a brief resume and a description of why you want to be on the steering committee, but it's designed to be fairly straightforward. And you can always reach out to me with any questions as well.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:42

Got it, but they can't reach out to you and blame you for every question, because it wasn't just you, right? That's not how it works.

Julian Dautremont 34:49

I mean, they can. I welcome feedback in any form, at any time. So that's fine. I always prefer when it's paired with, you know, constructive suggestions for improvement. But sometimes diagnosing the problem is important, too. We may know about it, but we might not, so it can't hurt to send it our way.

Dave Karlsgodt 35:08

Enlightened response. We'll take it from there. Alright, well, Julian, as we wrap up today's show, can you just give us a little bit of a vision for what does this look like going into the future? If we think 5, 10 years from now? What's the legacy you want to leave in your work with STARS? What is what does it look like? And how is it changing the world, you know, in the future?

Julian Dautremont 35:28

Sure. So it prompts for me STARS 3.0 and what we're thinking about for that. So that's the next big version and we've got lots of ideas, some of which will probably not happen, but I think it's helpful to put them on the table as things that we're working towards. They may not be in 3.0, but they could be picked up again for 3.1 or 4.0. So, the first thing that we're really thinking about a lot these days, and have been for a while, is can we move to a more dynamic form of reporting? So right now, campuses submit a STARS report and it's good for three years. They can update as often as every year if they want, but they don't need to. Your STARS rating is sort of legitimate or valid for three years from the date of submission. So that's great, but oftentimes campuses want to update some of their data, but not all of it. We don't have a process to allow that right now. Right now, if you want to update a single credit, you've got to submit a whole new STARS report. So we know there are campuses that, you know, their energy data changes every year, it makes sense to update it every year. The curriculum inventory, to see what percent of courses address sustainability, it doesn't necessarily change that quickly in most cases. So you might not want to update that every year. So creating a way to allow campuses to just update those things where they've made progress or have something new to report, but not be required to update every other field is one of the ideas for 3.0. And so we call that dynamic reporting. I'm also excited about trying to to expand STARS globally, right? We mostly have users in the U.S. and Canada right now. But we have a cohort of institutions in Australia and New Zealand, that is trying it. And we also have a number of campuses sort of individually in other parts world that are trying it as well. We had our first STARS gold institution outside of the U.S. and Canada recently from an institution in Ireland. So that's really exciting to me, the potential for STARS to be kind of the global platform for institutions to share their sustainability work. And as part of that we're trying to align STARS more and more with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are a really powerful framework at the international level that's guiding a lot of decision making. There's lots of movement and activity around the STGs. And higher ed. too is interested in figuring out what, you know, what is our role in relation to the STGs? So to the extent that STARS can be a tool to assess that and report on that, we think that would be a powerful contribution to the global conversation. Another thing that we're looking at that I'm excited about (and I'll close with this one). So one of the ideas that we're exploring is trying to identify, within the family of STARS credits right now, what are the credits that are most representative of a transformational sustainability program? So what are the like key foundational elements of a transformational sustainability program? And can we kind of pull those out of STARS and have a real simple, or simpler, let's say more simple than doing all of STARS, just focusing on those core elements and having there be a way that campuses just getting started could just do those, it's probably like 15 items, it's not super long, it's not as long as the full stars, and have that be an entry point into STARS, just focusing on those 15 areas and reporting on that. That's something that I'm pretty excited about and I think could open the door for a much bigger population of schools to start using STARS. And then once they've got some of those foundational pieces in place, then they can start looking at some of the more quantitative, performance-based metrics that we've got and start building into doing full STARS. That's my current ideas as to what would be the best way to bring in new institutions.

Dave Karlsgodt 39:12

It's kind of like the easy form for doing your taxes, right?

Julian Dautremont 39:17

Yeah, there you go, I hadn't thought of that. But that's a good way to describe it.

Dave Karlsgodt 39:21

Perfect, okay. Alright, final question for you then is if people want to learn more or get involved, what's the best way to get in touch with AASHE, especially those who are not already members and may not be familiar with the organization?

Julian Dautremont 39:33

Sure. So the website, it's a great place to start. And then when you're on our website, you can create an account and get subscribed to our newsletters. So that's a way to stay up to date on what's going on with AASHE, what are the opportunities for getting involved, and what are other campuses doing around sustainability. And there's a number of different groups you can opt into to get those kind of communications. Beyond that, you can always send us an email, the sort of generic email is info@AASHE.org. But you can reach out to me directly if you want, it's just julian@AASHE.org, or any of you know, the staff list is on the website. And so, reach out to the person who's responsible for whatever area you're interested in, is a good place to start. But again, if you're not even sure, like, I don't know who to go to, that info address is a fine starting place. It goes to one of my colleagues, and then she'll forward it to the person who's most relevant to answer whatever question you have. And that's what we're here for. So, you know, don't hesitate. If we can be useful, we always would like to do that.

Dave Karlsgodt 40:33

Well, I'll look forward to seeing you in Spokane at the conference this fall. But thanks again for coming on the show and explaining all about STARS and your vision for a, I don't know, a sustainably measured future.

Julian Dautremont 40:46

Thank you. And thanks so much for having me. And yeah, look forward to seeing you in Spokane as well. And then I hope some of your listeners will join us there as well.

Dave Karlsgodt 40:53

Great. Thanks, Julian.

Julian Dautremont 40:54

Thank you, and have a great day.

Dave Karlsgodt 40:57

That's it for this episode. I want to give a shout out to the staff at AASHE for setting up this interview, as well as our new intern Sarah Barr, who helped to produce this episode. To learn more about today's episode or any of our shows, you can visit our website at campusenergypodcast.com. We recently added a new transcript feature on the website and we're working to add this to all of our previous episodes. If you want to follow us on Twitter, we are @energypodcast. We also recently added a page on LinkedIn. Just search for the campus energy and sustainability podcast. If you'd like to support the show, please consider leaving a rating or review on iTunes, or sending a link to a friend. As always, thanks for listening.