Self-reporting Sustainability Frameworks and Stakeholder Buy-in: A Case Study of AASHE STARS at the College of Charleston

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Jones, Oliver
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Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) not only educate their students, but also influence and define common standards in the broader social sphere. This influence extends into the field of sustainability, particularly within assessment and reporting efforts. Sustainability reporting (SR) often utilizes guiding structures like sustainability reporting frameworks to establish standard reporting measures. This study evaluates institutional sustainability at the College of Charleston through two lenses: the externally projected image of sustainability at the institution through STARS reporting, and the internal perceptions of sustainability from academic & non-academic staff participating in the STARS reporting process. To analyze externalized sustainability metrics, the College of Charleston’s recent 2023 STARS report was compared to the 2020 submission. To identify internal perspectives, surveys pre- and post-reporting were administered, with the interpretation of these results aided by qualitative data obtained from semi-structured in-person meetings. The results of this study indicate a general shift from academically-focused sustainability efforts in the 2020 reporting period (2017 - 2020) to operations-focused sustainability in the 2023 reporting period (2020 - 2023). This shift may be attributed to changes in CofC organizational structure, dependence on CSD data collection, and employee turnover. In addition, analysis of internal perspectives indicates a potential disconnect between preference for sustainability and perceived progress towards sustainability at the College for some employees.