With unmatched 10 straight years in top 10, campus is higher ed sustainability leader
The green streak continues! Sierra magazine has named the University of California, Irvine No. 1 in the nation and No. 2 overall in its annual “Cool Schools” ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. and Canadian colleges. Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia got the top spot.
UCI’s history of environmental stewardship dates back to the Nobel Prize-winning research of chemistry professor F. Sherwood Rowland into the depletion of the ozone layer almost five decades ago. This work led to the development and growth of UCI’s campus culture of eco-friendly practices, groundbreaking research and extraordinary accomplishments that has put UCI at the forefront of American higher education.
“This current Sierra honor serves to confirm the great success of all our sustainability efforts in the classroom, in the laboratory, throughout the state and around the world,” said UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman. “A few years ago, then-President Barack Obama said that UCI was ‘ahead of the curve’ in this vital area. As we move forward, I have every confidence that our campus will continue to build momentum, provide leadership and do even more great work that will impact the lives of generations to come.”
Today’s “Cool Schools” No. 2 overall ranking makes UCI the only university to score in the top 10 for 10 consecutive years. It was No. 1 in 2014, 2015 and 2018 on the strength of its curriculum, research, campus operations and public engagement.
“These consistently high rankings from Sierra would not be possible without the outstanding environmental research of our faculty, the pervasive opportunities for our students to research and tackle real-world sustainability problems, and the commitment of the entire campus community to environmental stewardship,” said Wendell Brase, UCI associate chancellor for sustainability. “We are seen as a university that moves from research discoveries to solutions with determination, and our sustainability innovations are being adopted across the nation and now in other countries.”
The ‘coolest’ of schools
UCI also placed highly in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s current Sustainable Campus Index, which recognizes the best institutions in various impact areas. Due, in part, to receiving the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System’s esteemed Platinum rating – one of only five schools to have done so – UCI claimed No. 2 overall among doctorate-granting universities. In addition, it was first in research, second in green buildings, and third in coordination and planning.
Most recently, UCI boosted its number of electric vehicle charging stations (it provides more than any other UC campus) and finished converting its central plant to a system that conserves over 80 million gallons of potable water per year while cooling campus buildings – 18 of which are certified LEED Platinum and seven of which are zero-waste facilities. One of the school’s new pilot projects involves providing free insulation retrofits and solar installations in nearby low-income communities. And UCI researchers are adapting medical and public health curricula to better prepare students to treat tropical diseases as they expand in range owing to climate change.
The official publication of the Sierra Club, Sierra magazine initiated the college sustainability rankings in 2007 because – as the biggest purchasers and employers in many communities – campuses can create demand for green services and products and lead by example. This year, Sierra rated more than 280 institutions in 19 categories, ranging from teaching and research to public engagement and campus operations.
“As UCI is the only university to have ranked in the top 10 ‘Cool Schools’ for an unprecedented 10 years and counting, we’re continually impressed with its commitment to modeling, teaching and embodying excellent environmental stewardship in all areas,” said Katie O’Reilly, Sierra’s adventure and lifestyle editor. “The Anteaters are truly standouts in this increasingly important space.”
UCI’s sustainability achievements include:
- Zero-emission landscape maintenance
UCI Student Housing is partnering with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to replace aging gasoline-powered equipment with cordless, emissions-free products. So far, three mowers have been retired, saving 3,000 gallons of fuel and cutting 26.7 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. The transition to all-electric hand-held equipment will be completed in 2020.
- Participation in new NSF-funded data science and climate initiative
Researchers from UCI’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering, Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences and School of Physical Sciences will work together under a new initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation, to perfect the use of data science in climate studies. They include Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, Distinguished Professor of civil & environmental engineering; Padhraic Smyth, Chancellor’s Professor of computer science; and James Randerson, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science and the Ralph J. and Carol M. Cicerone Chair in Earth System Science.
- Community involvement
Started in part by the UCI Program in Public Health, ¡Plo-NO! Santa Ana is a community-academic partnership bringing together city leaders, faculty, staff and students to discuss and address lead and other contaminants affecting residents of Santa Ana.
- Student leadership
UCI has expanded its Student Leadership Institute for Climate Resilience across the entire UC system, introducing first-year and transfer students to some of the major challenges and opportunities of building community climate resilience, as well as tools for action.
- Energy use reductions
In July, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative recognized UCI’s energy efficiency improvement of 29 percent campuswide since 2009.
- Sustainable food service practices
UCI Dining received the 2019 grand prize for excellence in sustainable dining from the National Association of College & University Food Services – comprising members from higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada and abroad, along with supportive industry leaders. UCI Dining also won NACUFS sustainability awards for outreach and education (gold) and waste management (silver).
- Clean transportation
UCI won the 2019 Leading Public Fleet Award at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo. Forty-six percent of UCI fleet vehicles are powered by alternative fuels or hybrid technologies, and last fall UCI rolled out the first all-electric bus fleet in the nation. The student-funded and -operated Anteater Express shuttle service employs 20 buses, which join a hydrogen electric bus to provide more than 2 million pollution-free rides annually.
- LEED Platinum buildings
With the opening of the Anteater Learning Pavilion last September, UCI has 18 new-construction Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum buildings, the most of any U.S. campus.
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.