March 13, 2020

University again receives honors for sustainability efforts

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — For a third consecutive time, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is gaining national recognition for one of its numerous sustainability efforts.

That’s according to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), which recently announced the university’s silver star ranking.

The Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) uses a ranking system, which takes into account the university’s sustainability efforts in four comprehensive areas: academics, planning and administration, operations and engagement.

Campus-wide effort

The accomplishment is the result of campus-wide efforts, according to Geory Kurtzhals, sustainability director. Students, faculty, staff and administrators play a part in the course of their daily actions and numerous campus departments and units support or help facilitate research, educational opportunities and operational improvements that are vital.

“The STARS reporting process gives us an opportunity to engage people around campus who impact sustainability each day and may not realize it,” Kurtzhals said.

"STARS is a great strategic tool universities can use to provide for structure, guidance and inspiration,  said Karen Schauwecker, sustainability program coordinator.

“We consider ways to integrate sustainability in all of these areas on campus, and consider solutions that are adeptly fit for our unique institution," she added.

In addition, the Sustainability Office and its strategic initiatives as well as the campus Green Fee and the many diverse projects it funds play a major role in earning the designation. Since created in 2009 as the result of a student-led initiative, the Green Fee, paid for by student fees, has allocated more than $2.2 million in funding for 193 diverse projects.

Last month, the university reaffirmed its longstanding commitment to sustainability with the signing of the Second Nature Climate Commitment by Chancellor John M. Dunn.

Numerous other initiatives in place

SIU embraces sustainability in a wide variety of ways. Several sustainability working groups are in place featuring students, faculty and staff working collaboratively to find ways to be more sustainable in these areas:

  • Air and climate.
  • Energy. 
  • Food. 
  • Transportation. 

The Saluki Green Action Team (SGAT) is a campus-wide group committed to making a more sustainable future. Their goal is increasing awareness of individual and group actions to help reduce the university’s carbon footprint.

"We encourage everyone to sign up for our weekly Green Action post, containing tips and reminders of things you can do to contribute to sustainability on campus and in our community," , Schauwecker said.

This year’s SGAT posts are focusing on “ways that our everyday actions and community participation can align and contribute to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” Schauwecker said.

Numerous initiatives regularly taking place on campus include reusable water bottle giveaways,  green tours, recognition of the Environmental Ambassadors who volunteer at least 30 hours for environmental causes, Earth Day celebrations, and much more.

Honors keep coming

This is the third time SIU has earned the Silver STARS ranking from AASHE, initially achieving recognition in 2013 with a repeat award in 2016 and again this year.

Other sustainability-related honors include:

  • Tree Campus USA – received annually each year since 2016 from the Arbor Day Foundation.
  • Bicycle Friendly University – a four-year bronze designation awarded by the League of American Bicyclists in 2016.
  • Princeton Reviews Guide to Green Colleges – included the last seven consecutive years as well as in 2011.
  • Accredited Arboretum, level II – the first university in Illinois to achieve this accreditation from the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program, SIU is now featured in the Morton Register of Arboreta.

Still growing

SIU has much to be proud of but continues to look toward the future, Kurtzhals said.

“We are proud to have been yet again recognized with a silver rating, but we also know there is still much work to be done,” Kurtzhals said. “I hope that faculty, staff and students will take time to review the report to determine how they might be able to positively contribute to a more sustainable campus.”

Learn more about SIU’s extensive efforts to become a greener, more sustainable campus, at

 "We look forward to strengthening our programs and commitment to sustainability through collaborative engagement across campus," Schauwecker said.