Case Study

Top five ways to avoid poor quality STARS reporting

AASHE STARS reports are a valuable tool for sustainability in higher education. The metrics provided by a report give sustainability staff a quantitative—and thus easily comparable—understanding of where their program’s strengths and improvables lie.

The reports also help peer institutions benchmark themselves. In some cases, showing your internal stakeholders that a rival institution is scoring better than your school in a given area can help inspire support for change.

That said, the ability of these reports to support these uses depends on users entering good quality data. For most of us, ensuring data quality is not an exciting task. Thankfully, AASHE has provided a number of tools and resources to help (and incentivize!) you with this work.

First, there is AASHE’s “Data Quality Boot Camp Series” of webinars, which GreenerU’s Alex Davis participated in recently. He was able to glean the following tips:

  1. Keep current. Make sure your data is from within the past three years.
  2. Back it up. Provide supporting information for all of your claims.
  3. Be aware of outliers. There are three in particular that AASHE watches out for:
    • Scoring outliers, e.g., when your score on a credit is much higher than the average score in a credit. For example, few, if any, institutions earn full points for the Clean & Renewable Energy credit.
    • Numeric outliers, e.g., when your response might indicate a misunderstanding of the fields or entry of the wrong metric in a given field. An example would be entering “2013” in the field for “baseline gallons of water used” as opposed to “baseline year.” (One could only dream of a world using so little water.)
    • Comparative outliers, e.g., when your baseline and performance years indicate exemplary improvements in performance without a commensurate descriptive response. If you report a strong increase in performance, share how you did so! Other schools will be looking to you as a role model.
  4. Check your URLs before final submission. Many credits request links to pages on your institution’s web site that can provide more information to interested readers. But updates to your institution’s website or pages that limit access to community members can render your URLs useless to readers.
  5. Be consistent. Many credits incorporate institutional demographic data—such as the full-time equivalent population of students—into their scoring. Ensure that these institutional metrics are consistent across your credits (or have a reason for a difference).

One good practice is to partner with someone not associated with the data collection to read through your report before you submit your data to AASHE. A reviewer could be someone else from your institution, someone from a peer institution, or external support.

And there’s an added bonus: if you complete this review process using AASHE’s guidelines, you’ll be eligible for an Exemplary Practice credit —something that could help you increase your score.

Contact info@greeneru.com to learn more about working with GreenerU to complete a pre-submission review. We’re always happy to help!

 

Resources:

STARS Data Quality Boot Camp Webinar Series: Overall Tips: you can view a recording of the full webinar as well as presentation slides.

The STARS Review Template is a spreadsheet that walks through every credit with questions to help a reviewer catch incorrect or unclear entries.