Developing successful sustainability programs requires the use of benchmarking, a mechanism that drives continual improvements by measuring performance and evaluating progress towards goals. Some universities compare current environmental performance against a baseline performance level and a desired performance level to determine whether or not sustainability practices are generating the intended result. However, this only takes history and self-selected goals into account.
Benchmarking brings an important external variable into the assessment. With the benchmarking process, a university looks outside its own boundaries to compare its performance within an external context, such as peer institutions or an external standard. By expanding the assessment beyond government regulation and internal performance metrics, a university can better evaluate its response to environmental issues, and identify and implement improvements in accordance with current environmental best practices.
Benchmarking programs considered
Purdue has identified five sustainability benchmarking programs commonly used in higher education that the campus is either currently using or may use in the future. The five benchmarking programs under consideration are:
- College Sustainability Report Card
- Greenline Analysis
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
- Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
- The Climate Registry.
Each of these is described in Appendix A. Using benchmarking programs can provide the university with a more meaningful understanding of its environmental performance and enable informed assessment and refinement of sustainability initiatives. Additionally, the use of widely accepted benchmarking tools will provide Purdue with a set of metrics consistent with those used at other participating universities. This will help Purdue assess whether or not it is competitive with other higher education institutions within the campus sustainability arena. For more information, see Appendix A.
Purdue reviewed metrics from benchmarking tools as well as sustainability programs at other universities to select a preliminary set of metrics that it will track and report to the campus community each year. In addition to giving a comprehensive performance overview for each sustainability program area, using these metrics will simplify and facilitate the process of formally reporting data to the different benchmarking programs. Purdue’s selected metrics and their source are listed in the metrics sections found within each sustainability program area. Metrics that are broadly used at other university campuses are listed under Metrics Common to Higher Education. Purdue will continue to review and assess benchmarking programs (including those described in Appendix A) on an ongoing basis and determine appropriate levels of participation accordingly.