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Stage 1: Atlas Zero Waste Certification®

The Atlas Zero Waste Certification®, conducted through our Fellowship model, is an additional recognition given to campuses who have undergone the Atlas Stage 1 assessment and scored above a certain threshold. Applications for the Spring and Fall semesters are reviewed on a rolling basis.

What is Certification?

Atlas Zero Waste Certification® creates a high-level standard for a zero waste campus. This standard will not allow for greenwashing of the Zero Waste Movement or waste reduction efforts, and pushes for continuous progress and innovation. This certification framework creates a standard benchmarking tool for campuses to set meaningful goals using a universal metric to measure and track progress towards zero waste. The ability to compare zero waste initiatives at all types of campuses will allow us to celebrate campuses that demonstrate leadership and successful models for zero waste programming!

The Atlas Zero Waste Achievement Levels are based off your Campus Zero Waste Score. The score breakdown is as follows (59.4% or below does not qualify for certification):

How do campuses get assessed and scored?

Steps to getting certified graphic. 1. Campuses identify Fellows that will conduct the assessment. 2. Fellows are trained to use the Atlas Zero Waste Programs Checklist to gather info. 3. Fellows perform interviews with stakeholders, compile resourcecs, and synthesize waste reports. 4. The Campus Programs Checklist is scored to give the campus its Zero Waste Score.

What is the price for Atlas Stage 1?

Atlas Stage 1 Pricing scale

We have just updated Atlas pricing! If you have been interested in Atlas and budgeted for our previous rates, please reach out – we will honor that until January 30, 2023.

These costs reflect the pricing for current PLAN Members. If you are not currently a PLAN member, please see the Membership Pricing Scale first to access this membership add-on. This cost does not include financial or credit based compensation for the Fellow(s) on your campus. 

If you are interested in Certification but find the cost to be a prohibitive factor, we want to hear from you! Please submit a request to our Movement Building Fund, also linked in the Certification Application Form.

Certification FAQs

 How long is my certification level valid for?

  • Zero Waste Atlas Certifications are valid for up to three years from the date they were produced and released by PLAN. Campus assessments are specific to the systems that the campus has in place at the time the assessment was conducted and does not allow for certification of future systems that the campus plans to put in place. 

**For programs that were put on hold due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, campuses have the option to perform the assessment based on how the system functioned as of March, 2020. When campus assessments are back-dated due to COVID, they will be noted as such in their scoresheet and report.

What is my Zero Waste Score?

  • Your total Campus Zero Waste Score is your official certification level. The Total Campus Zero Waste Score is a compilation of both Material Management Scopes 1 and 2. Read a detailed breakdown of how these scores are calculated on this page.

How is Atlas different from other certifications and consulting firms?

We often get asked how Atlas compares to other certifications, or what makes our approach different. Below are a few standout examples:

Atlas is exclusively a qualitative assessment

  • We don’t use the diversion metric, waste production per capita, or any other quantitative measure of material output. While we don’t oppose campuses using these measurements to benchmark and track progress, there are inherent challenges in doing so that are important to acknowledge – none of these quantitative measurements can effectively provide an accurate picture of materials management. For more information about the diversion metric, check out our blog post on 5 Reasons why the Diversion Metric Doesn’t Measure Zero Waste. 
  • We also don’t use LCA’s to guide our assessment because most LCA’s are inherently flawed when looking at the “sustainability” of a given product or material. LCA’s often look at a limited scope of the materials’ impacts (like the product’s carbon footprint) as opposed to the overall impact of the product, the potential for contamination and pollution during production, transportation, use, or disposal, or the impact that excessive disposable consumerism has on society from a global perspective. LCA’s often miss looking at the toxicity of plastic products for example, during the production, use, and disposal process. For more information about LCA’s, check out the report: Plastics: Can Life Cycle Assessments Rise to the Challenge?

Atlas is a holistic assessment of the entire campus materials management system, rather than one individual building or facility

  • Unlike other assessments, Atlas takes a holistic, campus-wide approach to materials management. We assess campuses based on the existence of campus-wide policies and infrastructure that serve the entire campus (see the list of assessed categories below). We believe that infrastructure change must precede behavioral change, and that the only way to effectively accomplish infrastructure change is to establish universal campus-wide standards that apply to all facilities on campus. We look for the existence of those systems, the capacity of those systems, and their proliferation and use across all facets of campus.

Atlas does not start with a waste audit

  • While waste audits provide some valuable information, we are more interested in understanding the materials being purchased by campus entities than we are with the materials found inside waste receptacles. Check out our post Why We Don’t Want to Dig Through Your Trash to learn more about our perspective on the value and role of waste audits. 

Atlas puts strategic visioning before strategic planning

  • Our goal is to help campuses establish a benchmark understanding of their holistic efforts towards campus-wide sustainable materials management, and where gaps exist within that system. For campuses that advance into Stage 2 of the Atlas Project, we work the campus to establish a zero waste task force made up of stakeholder representatives from all major facilities and departments. Those stakeholders are then guided through the process of creating a zero waste strategic vision – a document that maps out long-term system-wide solutions to achieving zero waste on campus.

How was the Atlas Assessment developed?

  • This assessment has been in development since the Summer of 2017, when we researched and interviewed best practices from our network of over 700 college campuses across the US, and worked closely with 9 advisory campuses to solidify and collate those best practices into our assessment tool that we call the “Campus Programs Checklist”. Over the last four years we have tested our assessment on 18 college campuses in the US, tweaking and refining the assessment multiple times to ensure that all types of facilities are assessed properly and fairly. Finally, in the Fall of 2020 we worked with our Atlas Advisory Committee to do a final thorough review of the Campus Programs Checklist, and the overall format and structure of the Atlas Assessment and program scoresheet. 

Atlas Stage 1 Program Application

Atlas Stage 1 Program has two components: the Fellowship and Certification. The Atlas Fellowship is the program through which campuses can become Atlas Zero Waste Certified.

The Atlas Zero Waste Fellowship is a program PLAN launched in 2020 to collaborate with students and staff that are passionate about helping their campus develop a strategic plan to achieve zero waste. The Fellowship provides students with the hands-on training and experience to be able to perform Stage 1 of the zero waste assessment of their campus. Atlas Fellows will learn how to use the Atlas Campus Programs Checklist to perform the interviews needed to gather data for the campus assessment.


Atlas Fellow Testimonials

“This experience felt like filling in a coloring book or flipping over blank cards to reveal a picture on the other side. I began to see the human picture of materials management on my campus that bins and tonnage reports do not show. At the same time, I practiced interview skills and began fruitful relationships with staff, faculty, and students.” – Anna Moore, University of South Dakota (Fellowship Class of Summer 2020)

“Learning about how my campus handles its waste was eye-opening. There is still plenty of progress that needs to be made before our University can sustainably manage its waste, but we are well on our way. The Atlas Fellowship gave me a great opportunity to learn more about my home, and I’m grateful for the chance to work with them.” – Jacob Foushee, University of Louisville (Fellowship Class of Summer 2020)

“Being part of the Zero Waste Atlas Fellowship has been an inspiring and fun journey as well as an eye opener and a realization of how we can continuously improve. It enjoyed connecting and learning with students from other campuses, and the weekly check-ins made me reflect on campus structures, abilities to make change, and how we can learn from each other.” – Katrine Oesterby, College of the Atlantic (Fellowship Class of Summer 2020)

 “Working with Atlas the past few months has truly been such a pleasure. The PLAN team, the students from other campuses, and the stakeholders I spoke to are all so passionate about zero waste and it’s inspiring to be a part of. I feel lucky to have experienced such a supportive community and worked with future leaders in the zero waste realm.” – Hannah Qiang, UC Berkeley (Fellowship Class of Fall 2020)

 “The Zero Waste Atlas Fellowship has allowed me to more fully understand zero waste policies and actions. Through this fellowship I have learned invaluable skills and had the opportunity to meet so many amazing, passionate people.” – Annie Miller, UC Berkeley (Fellowship Class of Fall 2020)

 “Being part of the Zero Waste Atlas Fellowship allowed me to take a step in the direction towards my passions of zero-waste and sustainability. It gave me experience, connections, and the confidence that I need to continue living out those passions. I am grateful for the support system that I had during this fellowship.” – Lisa Saxton, UC Berkeley (Fellowship Class of Fall 2020)

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