Feature Stories


Ana Toepel and Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, March 2018


UCSF Housing Services Brings Sustainability Home

With Earth Day just around the corner, this is a great time to focus on how we can use less of the Earth’s resources by making our homes more sustainable. Part of UCSF’s commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2025 is to reduce the amount of energy used on campus, as well as incorporate strategies for reducing water use and waste. (For a complete list of UCSF’s sustainability goals, see the Annual Sustainability Report for FY16-17).

This piece highlights how UCSF Housing Services is managing energy, water, and waste at on-campus housing—making it easier for UCSF’s approximately 1,500 tenants to live more sustainably at home and helping UCSF reduce its ecological footprint. Many of the practices UCSF Housing Services has incorporated can help the broader UCSF community create a leaner and greener living space at home.

UCSF’s Housing Sustainability Guy

James Palmer, UCSF Facilities and Projects Analyst at UCSF Housing Services, is known as UCSF’s housing sustainability guy. Palmer has a personal interest in waste reduction because of his concern about the harmful impacts of the waste that ends up in the oceans. Each month he includes a sustainability tip in the newsletter he sends out to his 1,500 tenants, encouraging sustainable behaviors at home. He also has been busy implementing some simple strategies to reduce energy and water use, such as installing LED lights, installing low-flow showerheads, and putting aerators on faucets. Spring sustainability baskets were delivered on Friday, March 23 to 173 units at UCSF’s Aldea San Miguel Complex. The baskets consisted of compost bags, an LED light bulb, and a Dr. Bronner’s 18 in 1 Hemp Citrus Pure Castile Soap, a natural, earth-friendly cleaning solution.

Top Sustainability Tips

Some of Palmer’s top sustainability tips include:

  • Swap your sheets: Not only does seasonally switching your bedding freshen up a room, but it’s also a great way to keep cool. While textiles like flannel sheets and fleece blankets are fantastic for insulation, cotton is a smarter move this time of year as it breathes easier and stays cooler. As an added bonus, buy yourself a buckwheat pillow or two. Because buckwheat hulls have a naturally occurring air space between them, they won’t hold on to your body heat like conventional pillows, even when packed together in a pillow case.
  • Eating tips: Use a brush and bowl full of water to wash vegetables. Thaw frozen food in your refrigerator, not under running water. Cook vegetables with a minimum amount of water and save cooking water for soup stock. In the summer stay cool in the kitchen by cooking something covered on the stove rather than heating up the oven. A quick meal on the stove will keep the temperatures down in the home.
  • Banish the water bucket and use a steam mop: They use very little water, sometimes no more than a cup, to generate enough steam for cleaning floors. Steam mops are big on convenience, most do a good job, and there are no chemicals or scents.
  • Install LED lights: LEDs use 25-30% less energy and last longer then incandescent bulbs; if you need a LED bulb, you can stop by Housing Services to pick one up (Housing Services will provide up to two bulbs per lease).
  • Properly sort your waste: UCSF Housing provides compost bins for all units at Mission Bay. Go here for waste sorting tips.

Reducing Energy Consumption with LED Lighting

UCSF is striving to meet both the UC system’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2025 and its own goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. At UCSF, electricity use in buildings and facilities produces 19.5% of UCSF’s greenhouse gas emissions. While many large energy efficiency projects are being implemented, smaller changes like using energy efficient LED lighting, are key to meeting these goals. UCSF Housing Services has implemented several measures to reduce the amount of energy used by its units, and last year it hosted an energy use competition to challenge tenants to make reductions and bring awareness to the opportunities that exist for saving energy at home.

One of the energy saving measures housing services has implemented is replacing all light bulbs in its housing communities with LED bulbs. When pre-existing bulbs burn out, or when a tenant moves out, they are all replaced with new LED bulbs. LEDs use 25%–30% of the energy of halogen incandescent bulbs and last 8 to 25 times longer, so it’s clear how effective they are for saving energy. Housing Services is also passing out LED bulbs for lamps to their tenants at housing fairs, and their goal is to have stock on hand so that tenants can come by the housing offices for LED bulbs when they need them.

The challenge with implementing this measure, James Palmer notes, is having access to the units to change the bulbs and educating the tenants on why changing them is so important. But, Housing Services is committed to overcoming the challenge. Palmer says, “It’s not just about providing light. It’s about inspiring a different mindset. We want to put in LEDs because they are an easy and cost-effective way to save energy.”

Saving Water Through Retrofits

UCSF has made great strides to reduce water use as well; in 2017 alone, water consumption per weighted campus user decreased by 47% compared with the 2007 baseline, surpassing UCSF’s goal of 36%. UCSF Housing Services contributed to this reduction by implementing water saving measures at its campus housing locations. This includes providing low flow toilets, installing 1.5 or less gpm shower heads, and aerators on all the kitchen and bathroom faucets. Aerators reduce a typical faucet’s water flow of 4 to 6 gallons per minute (GPM) to either 1 or 1.5 GPM, which saves thousands of gallons of water per year.

According to Palmer, housing services also has plans to retrofit all shower heads in the 431 units at Mission Bay with low-flow shower heads by the end of this calendar year. The new shower heads will have a flow of 1/1.5 GPM (the dial rotates to both options), replacing the 2.5 GPM standard shower heads. This could save approximately 2,000 gallons of water per year per shower head, which will increase reductions in water consumption beyond the 14% that has already been achieved at all locations combined since 2014. Through several of their monthly sustainability tips, housing services has also provided tenants with tips for using less water.

Reducing Waste at Mission Bay

The recycling and waste reduction program at UCSF is robust, with the goal of achieving zero waste by 2020. This has resulted in 72% of UCSF’s waste being diverted from landfills as of FY16 (recycling, compost, and garbage combined). Reducing waste at on-campus housing has its unique challenges because it can require inspiring busy tenants to change behaviors.

UCSF Housing Services encourages and helps residents reduce waste by recycling and composting at home. One way they do that is to make it easier for people to take waste-reducing actions; for example, at Mission Bay, there are separate recycling and garbage chutes inside the building on each floor, making the waste containers totally accessible and user-friendly for all tenants. They also provide tenants with compostable bags to make it easier for tenants to compost their kitchen waste. Compost accounted for one-third of UCSF’s total waste stream as of FY16, so this seemingly small measure can make a big difference.

Actions You Can Take at Home

There are many simple actions the UCSF community can take at home to conserve the Earth’s resources and decrease their impact on our community and the environment—and being more sustainable feels good, too!
Here are some tips to support you in taking action right at home:

Energy Saving Tips:

  • Replace your conventional task lights with LED lights. If you are a UCSF housing tenant, pick up a LED bulb for your lamp at the housing office (Housing Services will provide up to two LED bulbs per lease).
  • Slay your ‘energy vampires’ (http://sustainability.ucsf.edu/1.290) by unplugging electronics like your cell phone charger, computer, and printer when not in use. These items suck energy even when they’re off or in sleep mode.
  • If you need to purchase a new appliance or computer, buy one with an ENERGY STAR® or EPEAT® label. ENERGY STAR products generally use 20 to 30% less energy than required by federal standards, and EPEAT is an environmental rating that helps identify greener electronic equipment. You can also buy a ‘green’ model, which many electronics manufacturers offer.
  • Turn off your screen saver. Newer monitors don’t need screensavers for protection, and they use just as much energy as a monitor in use.

Water Conservation Tips:

  • Cut back your personal water use: take shorter showers, limit baths, don’t let water run from the faucet, and use a dishwasher if you have one instead of hand washing. Just shortening your shower by a minute or two could save up to 150 gallons of water per month.
  • Check faucets and toilets for leaks and repair them as quickly as possible. Even a small leak wastes gallons of water. If you spot a leak anywhere at UCSF, you can report it to facilities management by calling 415-476-2021, and they will come at no charge to repair the leak.

Waste Reduction Tips:

  • Take the time to sort your waste—and recycle, compost and reuse what you can. UCSF’s recycling and waste reduction program provides great information to help you do this on campus. Be sure and check it out. If you are a San Francisco resident, SF Environment has many resources and services to help you manage your household waste.
  • Buy recycled paper products for your home, like toilet paper, paper goods, and printer paper. Paper with no recycled content (virgin paper) typically comes from native forests. Purchase products with a minimum of 30% post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled content and ideally 100%—cut down on paper waste while saving trees and species biodiversity, too.
  • Switch from bottled water to filtered water. Install a filter at home or buy a home dispenser that you can refill with filtered water at a local grocery store. Fill up a reusable water bottle each day to carry with you. Learn more about how plastic water bottles harm the environment and human health.

If you are a UCSF housing tenant, you are encouraged to let housing services know if there is something you think they could implement to make it easier for you to be sustainable. Share any ideas by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).