UC sustainability

UC sustainability highlights

Highlights from the 2017 Annual Report on Sustainable Practices include:

  • Renewable energy. The second part of an 80-MW solar project came online in Fresno County. All 10 campuses have installed on-site solar photovoltaic systems, generating 40 MW of carbon-free electricity, and an additional 30 MW are in progress.
  • Efficiency. Since its inception in 2004, the Energy Efficiency Partnership program has allowed UC campuses to avoid more than $220 million in utility costs while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Carbon neutrality. UC greenhouse gas emissions dropped slightly in 2016 even in the face of campus growth. UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara have already exceeded the goal of reaching 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020, and UC Riverside is within 2 percent of their target.
  • Transportation. UC Irvine replaced its entire diesel shuttle bus fleet with 20 electric buses, supported by students who voted to charge themselves an additional fee. UCLA replaced its only remaining diesel buses with two new zero-emission electric buses.
  • Sustainable investments. UC became the first and largest founder of Aligned Intermediary, which helps investors identify investable climate infrastructure projects, and made a $100 million commitment to the TPG Rise Impact Fund, which seeks to achieve social and environmental impact in addition to competitive financial returns.
  • Food sustainability. Over $34 million in food spending (20 percent of UC food purchases) came from local and sustainable food sources. Eight of the 10 campuses have certified at least one food service facility as a green business.
  • Waste. In 2016-2017, 65 percent of waste was diverted from landfills. UC sends 1.4 lbs. per person to landfills every day, 26 percent less than other comparable universities.
  • Water use. Four out of 10 campuses and one medical center already meet or exceed the 2025 goal to reduce per capita water use by 36 percent. UC saved over 83 million more gallons of potable water compared to the previous year.
  • Building. UC added over 1.5 million square feet of new LEED-certified buildings in 2017. Roughly 20 percent of UC’s building space is now LEED-certified.

All 10 University of California campuses now have on-site solar power, and more progress is in the works. Over the last year, UC campuses made big strides toward zero-emission vehicles, with UC Irvine converting its entire bus fleet to electric. Campuses also cut water use, saving enough water to fill 125 Olympic-size swimming pools.

As UC’s 14th Annual Report on Sustainable Practices makes clear, UC is not only growing, it’s greener than ever. The 2017 report, which was presented to the UC Board of Regents at its January meeting, lays out the progress made over the past year on all aspects of sustainability, as well as the recommendations from three new reports designed to help the university transition away from natural gas and reach operational carbon neutrality by 2025, the goal of UC's Carbon Neutrality Initiative.

Students step up

“The momentum behind sustainability is unstoppable. I see evidence of this on every UC campus, and our students are blazing the trail,” said UC President Janet Napolitano in her introductory letter to the report.

There is perhaps no better illustration of this than UC Irvine, which became the first university in the nation to convert its full bus fleet to electric buses — all thanks to students who voted to charge themselves an additional campus fee to cover the cost of new buses and provide free rides to the campus community.

This isn’t just a UC Irvine phenomenon: Students at eight UC campuses decided to charge themselves extra fees to support Green Initiative Funds, which generate over $1.5 million a year in funding for sustainability projects led by students.

Water wins

Water is a perennial issue in California, and climate change is expected to worsen drought conditions and make annual rainfall less predictable. Meanwhile, water demand across the state is only expected to grow.

UC continues to do its part in reducing campus water use. In 2017, UC saved more than 83 million gallons of potable water compared to the previous year, equivalent to the average annual water use of more than 1,800 Californians. UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Merced and UC San Francisco have already met the 2025 goal of a 36 percent reduction in water use.

Waste not

Not only is UC looking to reduce water waste, it’s also trying to send nothing to the landfill. In 2017, UC launched #MyLastTrash, a campaign to help raise awareness of the university’s 2020 zero waste goal and get campus communities involved in the effort. 65 percent of campus waste was already diverted from landfills in 2016–17, and UC campuses only send 1.4 lbs. per person per day to the landfill per year — 26 percent less than other comparable universities.

Clearing the air

Over previous decades, switching to natural-gas-powered cogeneration plants helped reduce UC’s overall carbon footprint, but today natural gas is UC’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. To reach the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative’s goal of operational carbon neutrality by 2025, the university has been putting alternative sources of carbon-free energy in the mix, and for that UC is largely turning to solar power.

The second of two solar farms in Fresno County came online in 2017, generating 80 megawatts of electricity for UC’s Wholesale Power Program and the UC Davis campus, and completing the largest-ever solar purchase by a U.S. university.

“The Wholesale Power Program portfolio by the end of 2017 was approximately 80 percent carbon-free, making it one of the cleanest suppliers in the California market,” said David Phillips, associate vice president for Energy and Sustainability for the University of California.

In addition, all 10 UC campuses have on-site solar photovoltaic systems, currently generating 40 MW of carbon-free electricity, with an additional 30 MW of solar projects in progress.

UC’s efforts in clean energy were recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which named UC among the national leaders in the use of clean, renewable energy in its Green Power Partnerships program. Among organizations in the program, UC ranked fifth for its on-site generation of renewable energy and ninth among the top 30 colleges and universities.

Read more about UC’s sustainability efforts, including features on students, staff and faculty using the campuses as living laboratories to test sustainable solutions for UC, California and the world, in the full 2017 UC Annual Report on Sustainable Practices.