By Karina Mazhukhina | May 31, 2015

UW Associate Vice President Ruth Johnston traveled to Stanford University this spring to discuss strategic priorities and partnerships with fellow higher education sustainability leaders.

Johnston serves on the board of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which for the past 10 years has been strengthening campus sustainability efforts and making sustainable practices the norm within higher education.

During the day and a half retreat at Stanford, Johnston and several other AASHE board members discussed ways of improving local, regional and international partnerships to help promote sustainability in all aspects of education.

"Ultimately, we want to bring together different types of sustainability organizations from all over the world to talk about how they can better share information with each other,” said Johnston.

Board members also discussed expanding office space and creating a member elected board.

Johnston said the retreat provided AASHE’s sustainability education leaders across the country a chance to discuss what's working and ways to improve, which helps advance AASHE’s mission.

As part of that mission to promote sustainability in education, AASHE has developed the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance and self-assess how green they are compared to their peers. Participants receive a STARS rating of Bronze, Silver Gold or Platinum

In October 2012, the UW received a Gold rating, which is valid for three years. This year UW is preparing an updated STARS submission, and will likely once again be among the top-rated schools.

“We absolutely aspire to get gold at the UW because we really care about sustainability,” said Johnston. “It’s hard to get because the university has started this movement so much earlier than others, so we already took care of things and we’re having to work a bit harder for it.”

“It’s definitely a motivator,” she added.

One of the discussion topics at the AASHE board retreat touched on the hot-button issue of divestment in fossil fuels, and whether the organization should work to advocate on behalf of such issues. To date, AASHE has not advocated for specific policy.

“The organization is more of a linking mechanism and has an education mission to bring students, administrators, faculty and staff from all kinds of universities together and to learn from one another,” Johnston said.

For schools who are working on improving sustainability and integrating it into all areas of operation, AASHE provides resources and case studies to aid the process.

“We’re working on embedding sustainability into the curriculum, so anyone visiting the AASHE website can go and see what other schools are doing," she added.

During the trip to Stanford, the group also toured various aspects of the school's sustainability efforts, including Stanford's state-of-the-art energy system.

Stanford's new energy system uses hot and cold water to heat and cool campus, and innovations like a hot water storage tank and systems that recover heat as the cold water warms as it moves through campus.

Many of the buildings on Stanford's campus have been outfitted with solar power:

solar power

The AASHE retreat provided members a chance to look forward and determine the best path for the organization.