Academic Programming Elevates College’s STARS Rating

Students explore sustainability in business

Academic Programming Elevates College’s STARS Rating

Students explore sustainability in business

Saint Joseph’s College supports the strong tradition of sustainability in Maine, joining the College of the Atlantic and Colby College on the list of higher education institutions who have distinguished themselves with a commitment to sustainability.

“People would expect that environmental science courses at Saint Joseph’s College are addressing sustainability issues, but they might be surprised to learn about all of the other departments that are addressing an even broader definition of sustainability,” said Kimberly Post, director of Community-Based Learning and engagement director for the Center for Sustainable Communities. 

Saint Joseph’s institutional commitment to sustainability was broadened when President Jim Dlugos signed the Presidents’ Carbon Commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2036.

With its recent upgrade to a Silver Star Award in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS) from the The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Saint Joseph’s College has taken significant strides toward its institutional sustainability goals. Developments in academic programming played a key role in elevating the College’s rating in this national framework. 

Take the Business Ethics course, for example, and the Life Cycle Assessment assignment that students are given by Assistant Professor Mary Engel each semester. “The Life Cycle Assessment helps students to understand the complexity of the everyday products that we use and their effect on the natural environment. When they conduct an objective analysis of a product, they are learning how to help contribute to an organization’s efficiency, bottom line, and social commitments,” Engel said.


Business Ethics students celebrate after completing their Life Cycle Assessment presentations.
Photo: Patricia Erikson.

Justin Karageorge ’18, Zach Glanville ’18, and Danny Fox ’18 decided to analyze the long-term costs of adopting a turf field versus continuing with a grass athletic field as this was a choice that Saint Joseph’s College recently faced. They compared costs, environmental impact, and relation to sports injuries, to name a few factors. With respect to comparative costs, their report concluded, “We have found that the turf field costs more up front, but in the end with all of the maintenance that a grass field needs, turf is cheaper than a grass field. Annually the turf costs around $3,000, compared to the $40,000 in maintaining the grass.” Other student projects assessed the life cycles of food products, office supplies, electronics, and fertilizers that are used on campus.

The number of courses in Saint Joseph’s College’s curriculum that addresses diverse aspects of sustainability has grown to include 82 undergraduate courses and nine graduate courses; additionally, the college offers a minor in sustainability. 

In addition to its curricular development in sustainability, other criteria, including diverting solid waste into recycling and reuse programs at the end of the school year, buying green electricity, and operating a hydroponic freight farm also led Saint Joseph’s College of Maine to earn a Silver Star Award.  

As a Sisters of Mercy institution, the College has grounded itself in both the Sisters’ Critical Concern of Care for Earth and their Mercy Taking Action, a commitment to social justice and advocacy. Saint Joseph’s institutional commitment to sustainability was broadened when President Jim Dlugos signed the Presidents’ Carbon Commitment to achieve carbon neutrality by 2036. The commitment then expanded into a campus-wide Civic Action Plan in which the College commits itself to deepening civic and community engagement and enhancing its public purpose. 

About the College’s new STARS designation, Kimberly Post said, “We began using STARS about five years ago when we joined AASHE and realized that using this tool could help us to assess and further institutionalize our sustainability initiatives across our campus. Our first submission, which we completed over three years ago, earned us a Bronze rating based upon sustainability efforts that were already in place. We since have used the guidelines and standards from STARS to enhance our sustainability work at SJC and engage a broad cross section of the campus in these efforts. The adoption of the STARS standard to guide us has been a key strategy of our sustainability, in addition to our Climate Action Plan and commitment to carbon neutrality by 2036.”