Innovative programs that are helping make UC campuses greener and two systemwide Sustainability Champions were honored at the 2012 California Higher Education Sustainability Conference.

UC Davis hosted this year's conference, which was held in June and organized by the UC system, the California State University system, California Community Colleges and some of the state's private colleges. Each system honors its own green efforts and sustainability leaders.

"California's universities and colleges are doing some of the best green building and energy efficiency projects in the nation," said Matt St.Clair, sustainability manager for the UC Office of President. "These efforts are not only helping our campuses save money and provide healthier working conditions, they are also providing innovations that can be replicated across the state and the country."

UC Sustainability Champions John Elliott, UC Merced's former director of energy and sustainability, and Jim Genes, special assistant to the campus's vice chancellor for administration, were called a "dynamic duo" by the committee who picked them for the award.

Elliott left UC Merced earlier this summer and is now the first chief sustainability officer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He said being honored by his peers makes the Sustainability Champion award more significant.

"This group of people is incredibly accomplished," Elliott said. "So this award really means a lot."

He and Genes worked to implement UC Merced's sustainability programs, which included a triple zero commitment to use zero net energy, produce zero landfill waste and emit zero net greenhouse gases by 2020.

"Our campus is the living laboratory where we are piloting sustainable strategies for growing communities," Genes said. "We're implementing solutions that are affordable, scalable and can be copied by other communities."

The Best Practice Awards, announced in April and presented at the conference, highlight achievements that can serve as models for other campuses. Programs at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz and UC San Francisco won awards for inventive approaches to energy efficiency, sustainable foodservice and waste reduction.