Our office was delighted to read Frank Ellis’ and Richard Tombaugh’s (both ’54) invocation for Princeton to improve its sustainability ranking (Inbox, Jan. 11). The authors correctly intimated that ranking systems can sometimes be misaligned with the most meaningful impact universities can have (e.g., innovative behavioral-science and technology research in sustainability, on-site demonstrations of sustainability inquiry, collaborative partnerships). Sometimes pursuit of our institutional mission and commitment to evidence-based, meaningful impact means sacrificing some forms of recognition.
Moving the needle on sustainability is a collaborative process, with Princeton innovating through a distributed leadership approach and participation in collective-impact objectives across all of higher education. This approach involves long-range, complex systems thinking and partnerships of varying character and context. Because of the need for locally informed solutions to global sustainability challenges, we believe the institutions involved in this endeavor are more appropriately rated rather than ranked.
Toward that end, we participate in the most widely used and reputable sustainability-tracking resource in higher education: the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). This tool, much like the LEED rating system for buildings, allows schools to pursue credits that are the most relevant to their context and strengths. STARS enjoys credibility because the process of developing STARS credits is transparent, as are all the data submitted.