Hope College has earned a STARS Gold rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.  Hope had previously held a Silver rating since 2017, after having held a Bronze rating since 2012.

Michelle Seppala Gibbs, who is director of the Office of Sustainability at Hope, emphasized that the achievement — which is based on a comprehensive review of practices at the college — belongs to the college community as a whole, both past and present.

“The STARS assessment is an all-campus report that examines every single aspect of the college,” she said. “Our Gold rating is built on the work of many people across many years and their continuing commitment to finding creative ways to integrate sustainability into our programs, operations and campus facilities.”

With more than 900 participants in 40 countries, AASHE’s STARS program is the most widely recognized framework in the world for publicly reporting comprehensive information related to a college or university’s sustainability performance. Participants report achievements in five overall areas: 1) academics 2) engagement, 3) operations, 4) planning and administration, and 5) innovation and leadership. 

The ratings are at four different levels:  Bronze at 25%, Silver at 45%, Gold at 65% and Platinum at 85%.  Hope’s overall score is 65.28%, an increase from the college’s 2020 score of 57.65%.  The college’s STARS report is publicly available on the STARS website at stars.aashe.org

Sustainability efforts at Hope are initiated and pursued by students, faculty and staff, and alumni, and take a variety of forms.  They are supported and encouraged by an advisory committee known as the Green Team consisting of students, faculty and staff.

Student-organized groups at the college include Green Hope, focused on sustainability.  In addition, each year several students participate in the college’s Hope Advocates for Sustainability internship program coordinated by the Office of Sustainability.  An Alumni Sustainability Affinity Group has supported projects including tree plantings and retrofitting a college-owned residential cottage as a green facility.

In addition to familiar activities like recycling and upgrading windows and lightbulbs with energy-efficient replacements, projects and practices across campus range from the addition of beehives to provide pollinating insects; to reducing food waste and the use of water in the dining halls; to solar-powered charging stations for the electric golf carts used by the physical plant staff; to using environmentally friendly products in cleaning and groundskeeping.  Hope makes a tradition of planting trees during national Campus Sustainability Month, each October, and Earth Week and Arbor Day, both in April.  College buildings that have LEED certification are the van Andel Huys der Hope Campus Ministries house that opened in the fall of 2019 (LEED v4), the Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center that opened in 2017 (LEED Gold) and the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts that opened in 2015 (LEED Silver).

This past year, a Green Revolving Fund was created through seed funding from alumni and a matching commitment by the college. Each year, a team of students, faculty and staff identifies efficiency projects with both an environmentally positive impact and a positive fiscal impact.  This past year, the fund received additional support through the sale of honey produced by the college’s bees as well as campus pop-up thrift stores hosted by the student club, Green Hope.

Gibbs noted that the college also coordinates sustainability efforts with community organizations in a variety of ways.  During the past several summers, for example, faculty and student researchers at the college have partnered with the City of Holland and Holland in Bloom on an Urban Tree Canopy Project to inventory trees on city property and campus.  The work has led to development of TreeSap, a free app that enables users to learn more about individual trees in the city and around campus.

In addition, Hope offers academic majors in environmental science with concentrations in biology, chemistry and geology, and minors in both environmental science and environmental studies.  Multiple faculty-student collaborative research teams pursue environmentally-related projects, and programs at Hope include a Global Water Research Institute based on the college’s strong tradition of research on water quality in particular.

Hope has received several awards through the years for its sustainability efforts.  For the past five consecutive years, the college has received Tree Campus USA® recognition from the Arbor Day Foundation.  In October 2022, Hope was named a runner up for that year’s West Michigan Sustainable Business of the Year Award by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. In October 2019, Hope received an Honor Award for exceptional grounds maintenance in the Green Star Awards competition of the Professional Grounds Management Society. In 2015, Hope College Dining received Gold-level recognition in the SEED sustainability program of Creative Dining Services.  In 2014, the college was certified by the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program for meeting the organization’s standards in overall grounds management practices.

More information about sustainability efforts at Hope and in the area is available at hope.edu/sustainability

AASHE is an association of colleges and universities that are working to create a sustainable future. AASHE’s mission is to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation.  It provides resources, professional development and a network of support to enable institutions of higher education to model and advance sustainability in everything they do, from governance and operations to education and research. More information about AASHE is available at aashe.org