UCSF Sustainability Stories

Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, April 2018

Strategic Problem Solving Helps UCSF to Tackle Carbon Neutrality

“What keeps you up at night?” This is the question Paul Jenny, UCSF Senior Vice Chancellor, Finance and Administration, posed to his team to begin the a strategic planning process (known as the Lean Journey) to identify the top strategic priorities for UCSF Finance and Administrative Services (FAS). When Gail Lee, UCSF’s Sustainability Director, pondered this question, reaching carbon neutrality by 2025 is what keeps her tossing and turning at night.

FAS has identified five “True North” Pillars, including Resource Management and Stewardship, which includes a metric for reaching carbon neutrality. According to the March 2018 FAS Town Hall True North refers to UCSF’s overall direction; it guides tactical decisions, realigns priorities, and provides a framework for helping people think systemically about how to align their work.


In November 2013, the University of California (UC) became the first major university to pledge to become carbon neutral by 2025. UCSF has been improving its energy efficiency and enacting a range of strategies to cut carbon emissions, however, to-date, campus funding and operational decisions have not taken into account carbon emissions.  In recognition of rising energy costs, air pollution, climate change impacts, and UC President’s leadership and participation at the Paris Climate Conference, combined with a period of unprecedented campus growth and the short time frame to achieve carbon neutrality, FAS has made reaching carbon neutrality a strategic priority. FAS is on the lean journey, along with UCSF Health and the School of Medicine. In order for FAS to create a strategic action plan for achieving the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality, Lee and her team conducted an A3 assessment.  Members of the team include representatives of key stakeholder departments: Kevin Beauchamp (Planning), Scott Muxen (Capital Programs), Jodi Soboll (Facilities), Brian Smith (Research Administration), Bruce Lanyon (Real Estate), Erick Villalobos (Transportation), and Andrew Clark (Supply Chain Management).

What is an A3?

A3 is a problem solving method that is part of the Lean Journey; it originated at Toyota, but since today is used in many different sectors, including higher education and health care. Lee and her team used the A3 process to achieve a concise, strategic overview of how UCSF’s current operations are impacting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and identify the most effective strategies for achieving success.

An A3 strategy requires getting all the information summarized onto a one, 11” x 17” piece of paper; this required Lee and her team to be very clear in their thought process and understand what information is truly important to the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025. What became clear through the process is that there are eight current conditions that will impact UCSF’s ability to successfully meet this ambitious goal. Since four of the eight were working in parallel with the A3 development, Lee and her team created an Action Plan that focused in on the four areas that were not yet being worked on by UCSF but were identified as having the most potential to make an impact:

  • Building total cost of ownership: UCSF was not considering total cost of ownership (TOC) in Business Case Analysis (BCA). It was identified that a BCA needs to include operations costs, cost of carbon in new buildings, and renewal of old buildings. When funding is being raised for new buildings, the cost of carbon and other building ownership issues need to be taken into account. This will help donors understand the impact of carbon on health and the budget.
  • Energy staffing (FTE): UCSF has Strategic Energy Plan (SEP)-funded projects, but lacks the staff to fully implement the projects. UCOP has recommended that one FTE energy staff person be created per one million sq. ft. This would create new full-time positions for all new buildings, with staff focused on energy efficiency and commissioning.
  • Energy efficient purchasing: Currently UCSF does not have an Environmental Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program that would require staff to replace old equipment with Energy Star and EPEAT labels. Incentives and education are needed to align purchasing with the FAS goal to reach carbon neutrality.
  • ZEV/hybrid by 2025: Currently 33% of the UCSF fleet is zero emission vehicles (ZEV) and hybrids. UCSF lacks a specific policy and incentives that would encourage individual departments to purchase ZEV and hybrids.

Action Plan

After reviewing the problem, understanding the current conditions, developing goals, and performing a gap analysis, an Action Plan was developed. Between now and FY19, the following actions have been prioritized:

  • Building total cost of ownership: Establish a Task Force to provide performance criteria to achieve zero carbon in the TCO in the BCA for new construction, renovation, and infrastructure projects, and highlight these tradeoffs.
  • Energy staffing (FTE): Explore and propose funding options in BCA to staff 1 FTE per 1M square feet to speed implementation of Strategic Energy Plan (SEP) projects.
  • Energy efficient purchasing: Work with UCOP and cross-functional team to recommend policy statement and gain support from stakeholders to establish strong EPP policies.
  • ZEV/hybrid by 2025: Implement a new transportation policy for departments to purchase zero carbon vehicles with marketing campaign and incentives.
  • Sustainable campus development: Explore carbon implications of campus growth and research sustainable development in higher education and make recommendations to Development and Leadership.

Progress and Next Steps

Each action has an assigned owner who will conduct periodic “checks” with the A3 team to ensure that the action plan has the expected results. Lee is pleased with progress to-date, which includes:

  • TCO analysis will be included in every future building project charter to ensure it is part of the building approval process.
  • Identified one FTE per one million sq. ft. on the campus side.
  • Worked with UCOP to provide annual reporting of purchases for Energy Star, EPEAT, Water Sense, Green Guard, and Green Seal products.
  • Set a goal for UCSF Transportation Service Shuttles and department fleets to achieve 100% EV/hybrid by 2025.
  • Working to define what “Sustainable Campus Development” means to UCSF to inform decisions by Development and Leadership.

“It takes a village,” stressed Lee. “The Office of Sustainability can’t reach this goal on its own, but will need everyone to do their part.”