Campus-Wide Commitment Propels Clarkson University to Gold Rating on Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System

Clarkson University has received a Gold rating on the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). This places Clarkson among the top 100 universities and colleges in the United States who are committed to sustainability in the education of students for their future and operation of the institution.

Staff members and the public participate in the unveiling of the new Ducted Wind Turbine during a ceremony on campus, Monday, April 22, 2019. (CU Photo by Steve Jacobs)

Susan Powers, Director of the Institute for a Sustainable Environment, said there are three main components of Clarkson’s sustainability initiatives that helped bring the school its high rating; curriculum and research, innovation, and grounds.

Powers said the curriculum and research at Clarkson is something that touches nearly all students on campus.

“We have several degree programs and minors that focus on sustainability and the environment with class options related to sustainability in 80% of all degree programs,” Powers said. “It is not just the environmental engineers and the environmental scientists. Across the board, our students understand sustainability principles and are applying them on projects ranging from evaluating the equity of a carbon tax to installing solar powered water pumps for a small village in Africa.” 

The Honors sophomore class project received additional accolades through STARS for tackling sustainability projects on campus and in the community every year, including their support this year for the Potsdam Climate Smart Communities initiative.

The culture of sustainability also aligns with the university’s focus on scholarship and innovation.  Faculty from across campus engage in sustainability related research. Chair of the Communication & Media department, Prof. Jason Schmitt, produced a documentary on open-source access to scholarly publications that received a STARS innovation point. Open source access to academic research is critical in the support of sustainable development in all countries.  

Kenneth Visser, an Associate Professor in Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering, was also praised with an innovation point for his ducted wind turbine design. A full-scale prototype of this turbine was recently installed on top of Clarkson’s LEED Gold Technology Advancement Center.

The concept for the turbine came out of Visser’s research and led to the incorporation of a company, Ducted Turbines International (DTI), through Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation. Faculty, staff members, alumni, and students from a wide range of majors have been involved in the work on the project. Powers pointed out that some of Clarkson’s software engineering students are involved in developing the dashboard that can be used to collect data from the turbine and display its output for the campus community to view and learn.

Operation of the wind turbine will continue to provide ongoing opportunities for student research and design projects and will be a showcase for DTI.

Above all, the collaborative efforts behind Clarkson’s sustainability initiatives is what has allowed the university to achieve such high ratings in sustainability. Powers said that recent efforts go even beyond faculty working with one another and is more all-encompassing.

“We used to talk about interdisciplinary. It was a mechanical engineer working with a mathematician. Now, it is still that, but they also work with staff from Facilities, the Office of Information Technology, the machine shop and our alumni. All of that ties us together. It is rare for such cross-cutting activities to be supported on a university campus,” Powers said.

Other contributing factors to Clarkson’s gold rating include its other sustainability related accolades, such as its ranking on The Sierra Club’s Coolest Schools list, being named a Leader in the New York State Energy Research & Development REV Campus Challenge, its Tree Campus USA® recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation, and being listed on Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges.

Clarkson continues to work on improving other aspects of its sustainability rating, including measuring energy consumption by buildings and major equipment to find ways to save energy during operations and renovations.

“In all of our renovations, both the building envelope as well as the HVAC systems are focused on deep energy efficient retrofits,” Powers said.

Clarkson’s ultimate goal in sustainability is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2025. The STARS Gold Rating is a mark that has been set as a presidential goal for Clarkson.

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