Feature Stories


Ana Toepel, Green Impact, March 2019


Five Ways UC Shines in its 2018 Annual Sustainability Report

In January the 2018 University of California Annual Report on Sustainable Practices was presented to the Board of Regents. The comprehensive report highlights the achievements of the University of California’s robust sustainability program over the past year and details its progress on the goals laid out in its Policy on Sustainable Practices in nine areas: climate and energy, food, green building, procurement, sustainable building operations and labs, transportation, UC Health, water, and zero waste. The report covers all ten UC Campuses and five UC Health locations and includes achievements in research and education as well as community engagement and development.

Last month we shared UCSF’s key sustainability accomplishments for 2018. This month we spotlight the entire UC system and five ways it stands out as a sustainability leader:

  1. UC fights global climate change;
  2. UC keeps to carbon neutrality goal;
  3. UC moves its fleet toward zero emissions;
  4. UC makes buildings greener; and
  5. UC chooses sustainable food.

Each of these five is described in detail below.

#1- UC fights global climate change
In the annual report’s “Message from the President,” Janet Napolitano described UC’s commitment to fighting global climate change and reducing its carbon footprint, calling this task a “moral imperative.” 
Over the past year UC formed new international partnerships, invested in research, and engaged the UC community to further climate solutions and, in Napolitano’s words, “help to turn the tide on climate change.”

Last February UC launched the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3)—a coalition of 18 leading research universities from across North America—which held forums with more than 2,600 business and government leaders for collaboration on large-scale climate solutions. UC also worked together with government, education, and non-profit partners to organize multiple sessions at the momentous Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September.  During the Summit, UCSF hosted an affiliate event, the Global Climate and Health Forum, and UC signed a memorandum of understanding with a university in China to further the exchange of research on climate and energy. This past year UC also funded four new major collaborative research initiatives related to climate solutions. 

UC Health was also a climate action leader, joining Health Care without Harm’s Climate Council, which works to support national climate policy, and the California Health Care Climate Alliance, a group of health systems advocating for climate policy in the state.

#2- UC keeps to carbon neutrality goal
UC has set a goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2025, and this year it made additional clean energy commitments to realize that goal. UC is now aiming to achieve 100% clean energy at every campus and health facility and to have biogas account for 40% of natural gas combustion at each location. It also has committed to reducing annual energy use intensity (energy use per square foot) by an average of 2% minimum at each campus through the implementation of further energy efficiency measures in buildings and infrastructure.

In 2018 UC made great strides toward its goal. It added an additional five megawatts of on-campus solar, and at the time the report was written, an additional 56 energy efficiency projects were expected to come online. UC was named the 5th largest on-site green power generator in the country by the EPA’s Green Power Partnership, generating more on-site renewable energy than any other university in the country, with 88 on-site systems. To support on-campus greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation projects, UCLA implemented an air travel mitigation fund with a mandatory carbon fee for each business-related flight itinerary, one of the first of such programs at a U.S. college or university. UC’s GHG emissions decreased as well, by almost 5% from 2016 to 2017, even with campus growth. UC Berkeley contributed to this by switching to 100 percent carbon-free electricity through the new East Bay Community Energy Program. This past year UC also funded 47 carbon neutrality initiative student fellowships for student-generated projects that support the carbon neutrality goal. 

#3- UC moves its fleet toward zero emissions
By 2025 UC aims to make zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) or hybrid vehicles account for 50 percent of all new light-duty vehicle acquisitions. It has made great progress toward this goal over the past year. Six campuses already met this goal, with at least 50 percent of new fleet vehicles purchased in FY18 being all electric or hybrids. UC Irvine converted its shuttle service to an all-electric fleet, becoming the first campus in the country to do this and providing more than two million student rides per year with clean transportation. To encourage and enable the UC community to drive emissions-free, too, UC added an additional 290 electric vehicle charging stations since the previous year’s report and now provides more than 840 stations system-wide. 

#4- UC makes buildings greener
In 2018 UC added numerous buildings to its growing list of LEED certified green buildings, receiving two LEED Silver, eight LEED Gold, and five LEED Platinum certifications and reaching a grand total of 301 LEED certified buildings system-wide. One of the platinum certifications was achieved by UC Irvine’s Mesa Court Towers, a 250,000-square foot housing complex for over 1,000 students, and one of the gold certifications was for UC Santa Cruz’s Cowell Ranch Hay Barn, which houses its Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. 

In terms of the energy efficiency of its buildings, UC also made great strides during the year. Sixteen building projects received financial incentives from California utility programs for their energy saving achievements and exceeded the energy provisions of California’s Building Code by 25%. UC updated its green building policy to ensure energy performance will continue to improve moving forward as well, adding robust energy efficiency targets for new UC Health buildings that aim to have buildings outperform industry standards by 30%. Additionally, the updated policy specifies that no on-site combustion of fossil fuels such as natural gas can be used for space and water heating in new buildings or renovations beginning in June 2019.

#5-UC chooses sustainable food
Over the past year, UC continued to make sustainable food purchases for its residential dining facilities, health systems, and retail food operations, with sustainable food accounting for 23%, 24%, and 21%, respectively, of the total food spend. The total the campuses and health systems spent on purchases of food that met one or more sustainability criteria was over $33.8 million. All five UC Health systems signed the Cool Food Pledge and committed to promoting more plant-based food options to reduce the GHG impacts of their food. To give students greater access to local and organic food, UC Merced created a campus Pop Up Produce program that happens twice monthly. UC Berkeley’s Food Recovery Coalition supported food insecure students and reduced food waste by offering repurposed food at the campus food pantry, serving over 6,000 unique students during the past school year. Additionally, UC’s Global Food Initiative (GFI)—which provides funds to students for projects related to expanding sustainable food practices in dining halls, decreasing food waste, and reducing food insecurity for students—awarded funding to 52 students in 2017-2018.

Learn More
Be sure to check out the full 2018 Annual Report on Sustainable Practices and read about all of UC’s sustainability accomplishments.

Read this article about how students are supporting UC in meeting its sustainability goals.

Visit the UC Office of the President’s sustainability website to see everything that’s happening and how you can get involved: there are links to sustainability programs for each campus, too.

Image Source: UCOP
Story: Green Impact