What is sustainability?

AASHE defines sustainability in a pluralistic and inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations.  STARS attempts to translate this broad and inclusive view of sustainability to measurable objectives at the campus level. Thus, it includes credits related to an institution’s environmental, social, and economic performance.

The concept of sustainability has shaped the development of STARS and is fundamental to the rating system. One of the most popular definitions of sustainability is actually a definition of sustainable development. It is from Our Common Future: The Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, commonly known as the Brundtland Commission Report:

1. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

 - the concept of 'needs', in particular the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
 - the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

2. Thus the goals of economic and social development must be defined in terms of sustainability in all countries […]

3. […] Physical sustainability cannot be secured unless development policies pay attention to such considerations as changes in access to resources and in the distribution of costs and benefits. Even the narrow notion of physical sustainability implies a concern for social equity between generations, a concern that must logically be extended to equity within each generation.

The interconnectedness and interdependence of the social, environmental, and economic components of sustainability are included throughout Our Common Future. The Brundtland Commission writes, “Our inability to promote the common interest in sustainable development is often a product of the relative neglect of economic and social justice.” The report continues, “A world in which poverty and inequity are endemic will always be prone to ecological and other crises. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.”

To further advance the principles of sustainability, the Brundtland Commission called for a “universal declaration” of norms to promote sustainable development. This goal was realized with the Earth Charter, a “global consensus statement on ethics and values for a sustainable future.” Developed over a period of ten years with extensive global consultation, the Earth Charter has been formally endorsed by many organizations. The Earth Charter continues the Brundtland Commission’s understanding of the connections between social justice, environmental welfare, and economic security.

Today most uses of and references to sustainability emphasize the concept’s simultaneous economic, environmental, and social dimensions. For example, businesses talk about the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits (or, alternately, human capital, natural capital, and financial capital). Likewise, sustainability educators commonly refer to the Three E’s of sustainability: economy, ecology, and equity.

Popular representations of sustainability also underscore the concept’s three dimensions. Sustainability experts often use a three-legged stool as a symbol for sustainability. The social, economic, and environmental components each represent one of the stool’s legs. If one of the legs is missing, the sustainability stool can’t balance or function. A common illustration of sustainability is the diagram below depicting three overlapping circles representing environmental needs, economic needs, and social needs. The area where the circles overlap and all three needs are met is the area of sustainability.

Another popular representation is the following diagram which sustainability is depicted as three concentric circles to further emphasize the interdependence of the three dimensions - the economic existing within the social/cultural, and both existing within the environment.

In 2015, the United Nations published "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development",  a "plan of action for people, planet and prosperity". The publication outlines 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, and seeks to build on previous efforts by outlining a 15-year agenda that balances "the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental".

The Basics

  1. We’re not ready to submit a report, but our subscription is expiring. Can we get an extension?
  2. How do I purchase or renew a STARS subscription?
  3. What is the difference between basic and full access?
  4. What is sustainability?
  5. Is my institution eligible to participate in STARS?
  6. Why is our institution not listed in the drop down menu on the registration page?
  7. Can institutions outside the U.S. and Canada earn a STARS rating?
  8. Why is executive contact information required?
  9. What is the best way to prepare for the STARS reporting process?
  10. How long does it take to submit a STARS Report?
  11. How do I get access to STARS for my college or university?
  12. Who can I contact with my specific STARS related questions?
  13. Do I need to be an AASHE Member to use STARS?
  14. How often does STARS change?
  15. When will the next version of STARS be released and what will happen to our current submission?
  16. What does "performance year" mean?
  17. How can I determine if my institution meets the criteria for a credit?
  18. How should we select a baseline year?
  19. Can we include data from non-academic year activities (i.e. summer)?
  20. Can we resubmit data from a previous STARS submission?
  21. How do I submit feedback or suggest an improvement to a credit?
  22. What time frame should be used when reporting information to STARS?
  23. Do we have to use the same baseline year for all credits?
  24. How many total points are available in STARS?
  25. What does it mean that a rating is "expired"?
  26. What score (or how many points) do we need for each STARS Rating?
  27. How long does it take for the report to be reviewed and the rating to go public?
  28. Can I submit a report under an older version of STARS?
  29. What happens after we submit our STARS report?
  30. How often can we submit a STARS report?
  31. How can I get a high resolution copy of our STARS seal?
  32. How long is a STARS rating valid?
  33. Who will be able to view my final STARS Report?
  34. How does AASHE ensure that STARS reports and data are accurate?
  35. Are reports reviewed or verified?
  36. How do I submit a report for staff review?
  37. Correcting information in an existing STARS report
  38. Can I revise data in a submitted STARS report even after our subscription has expired?
  39. What is the Sustainable Campus Index (SCI)?
  40. How can my institution be included in the Sustainable Campus Index (SCI)?
  41. How can I compare how other institutions have responded on specific STARS credits, questions or metrics?
  42. What are the different access levels for STARS Data Displays?
  43. How much does it cost for Full Access to STARS?
  44. What is the reporting deadline?
  45. What is our deadline for submitting a report?
  46. What is the proper way to cite STARS Reports or data?
  47. How were the credits developed and weighted?
  48. How can a new product, program or standard gain recognition in STARS?

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