UCSF Sustainability Stories



Sustainability at UCSF:  Building Momentum Toward Sustainable Practices

Infusing sustainability into UCSF and adopting sustainable practices make perfect sense. It is not only good business, as many green initiatives result in cost savings, but it also reduces the university’s carbon footprint, improves the health of those who work and study at UCSF and furthers its mission of advancing health worldwide ™.

UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, talked about the importance of sustainability at UCSF in a recent interview.  “There is something that feels really good about working for an organization that takes its responsibility to health and sustainability seriously. It is part of being a great place to work.” explained Desmond-Hellmann.

Over the past two years, UCSF has built significant momentum toward tackling formal sustainability goals.  The Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS), formed in April 2008, has made significant and measurable progress toward making UCSF more sustainable and achieving UC Office of the President (UCOP) sustainability goals.

“What we experienced in a very short period is the formation of the Academic Senate Sustainability Task Force, the creation of the CACS and a convergence of grassroots interest, senior leadership support and funding,” explained Steve Barclay, past chair of the CACS and former senior vice chancellor.  Along with senior-level endorsement, the funding of UCSF’s sustainability priorities, in the face of the current economic challenges, “is a remarkable statement of support,” stressed Barclay.

The new senior vice chancellor of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) and co-chair of the CACS, John Plotts, sees the business value of sustainability.  “Sustainability makes good business sense, which is consistent with our goal to using our resources more efficiently,” explained Plotts. 

Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS) Work Groups

The CACS consists of 11 work groups:

• Budget
• Climate Change
• Education and Communication
• Green Building
• Health Care
• Sustainable Food
• Clean Energy/Water
• Reduce Reuse Recycle
• Sustainable Operations
• Procurement
• Transportation

Each work group is co-chaired by a team, one representative from the medical center and one from the campus. The work group co-chairs comprise the Sustainability Steering Committee (SSC), which supports the CACS. The work groups include representatives from the faculty, staff, students and the Academic Senate.

Key Achievements

The 2009 Annual Report summarizes in detail the CACS’ accomplishments and achievements. 

Highlights to date include:

  • Climate Change: UCSF is developing a strategy for addressing climate change. The final draft of the UCSF Climate Action Plan was submitted to UC Office of the President, laying out potential opportunities for reducing the campus’ carbon footprint. It has signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and is part of the California Climate Action Registry.

  • Green Building: UCSF is pushing the envelope on green building and aiming to be the UC leader in green design standards. The new UCSF Mission Bay Medical Center integrates cutting-edge sustainable and eco-effective design. In addition, UCSF has certified Rock Hall as a LEED (Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design) Silver building. “Rock Hall is unique because it is the first time UCSF has successfully operated an existing building to fulfill the LEED standards,” said Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann at the recent certification ceremony at Mission Bay.

  • Procurement: UCSF has successfully used its purchasing power to bring the cost of 30 percent post-consumer recycled content paper down to $3.04 per ream, competitive with the price of virgin paper ($3.12 per ream). It has also implemented a paperless procurement process that now handles 12 percent of all orders electronically, saving money, reducing paper use and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • going green   
  • Reduce Reuse Recycle:  Since 1998, UCSF’s diversion rate (the percentage of solid waste that does not go to landfill) increased from 7 percent to 51 percent. Even with this great progress, promoting best practices in recycling and waste management to minimize the waste stream continues to be a major priority (link to story). Recent successes include introducing new desk-side recycling and composting programs as well as customer composting in campus eateries.
  • food   
  • Sustainable Food: UCSF is working to integrate sustainable food practices into the medical center and campus food services (link to story). Most recently, it has reduced landfill food waste by 87 percent at the medical center by recycling and composting waste from patient meals. Other successes include the popular weekly farmers markets and the “Going Greener” program, which brings customer-facing composting and recycling to UCSF’s retail food service locations.


Looking Forward

Barclay, who retired as senior vice chancellor in March, is very proud of the progress made to date, including recruiting Gail Lee, UCSF’s new sustainability manager. “She will be the catalyst to making things happen - a dedicated manager who has great experience in this area.”

As Barclay caps his career at UCSF, he hopes his ambitious vision for the future of sustainability at UCSF is realized: “UCSF would meet or exceed its mandated carbon footprint goals for 2020; the medical center’s level of excellence in sustainability would match its excellence in clinical care; that the campus would be the UC leader in green building design, energy conservation and creative facility reuse; and that UCSF would optimize its opportunities to take advantage of its creative strategic sourcing contracts.”

“I would hope that in three to five years, sustainability will be infused into UCSF’s decision making and into everyone’s thinking and work life,” Barclay said.

To learn more

UCSF Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability
UCSF Hires Sustainability Manager, UCSF Today, January 26, 2010
UCSF Rocks with First LEED Silver Status for Existing Building
UC Sustainability
American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment
California Climate Action Registry

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Story: Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact
Photos: Susan Merrell and Deborah Fleischer