UC’s Sustainability Policy Helps Cut Carbon Footprint, Energy Bills

March 22, 2010
At A Glance

UC has been recognized as a leader in sustainability and higher education. Among the honors received in 2009:

"The governor's award recognizes UC Merced's vision to build a world-class research university and community based on the principles of environmental, social and economic sustainability," said Jim Genes, co-chair of the UC Merced Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Environmental Sustainability. "The award also honors UC's goal of piloting sustainable strategies that can be adopted in our region and around the world."

Megan Carney was immersed in a culture that embraced farmers markets, locally grown produce and organic foods while growing up in Santa Cruz. After she went off to college at UCLA, when it came to food, she noticed a difference between her hometown and Southern California's urban environment.

"There's much more of a disconnect between people and nature," Carney said of Los Angeles. "There's not a lot of open space or knowledge of where your food is coming from. Seeing the contrast, I wanted to bring the values I was raised with to UCLA."

Carney's efforts moved beyond UCLA, and she joined the California Student Sustainability Coalition, a group that helped inspire the University of California to adopt a sustainability policy in 2003 and launch the greening of UC's campuses.

"Students brought this issue to the regents in 2002 asking UC to practice what it teaches," said Matthew St. Clair, the systemwide sustainability manager for UC. "The students did not just make demands; they have worked collaboratively to develop consensus on the policy goals and have worked alongside staff to achieve them."

UC's policy includes mandates on energy efficiency, use of renewable resources, recycling, waste reduction, environmentally friendly construction methods and, near to Carney's heart, campus foodservice guidelines issued last year. All are components of the generally accepted description of sustainability, derived from a 1987 U.N. report, that defines it as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

Money savings

Since going green, UC has been saving some green, along with reducing its carbon footprint.

UC would pay approximately $15 million more per year for energy if it had not implemented efficiency projects resulting from the systemwide sustainability policy, according to the annual report on the policy that will be given to the Board of Regents on March 23.

The energy savings come from projects enacted since 2004 as part of an Energy Efficiency Partnership that UC has with the state's investor-owned utilities. Even more energy savings are projected to result from projects implemented during future years.

In March 2009, the regents authorized financing to continue the partnership through 2011 to deliver projected net savings of $17 million per year during the 15-year loan repayment period and $35 million annually thereafter, when compared with 2008 energy prices.

Even more energy costs are avoided thanks to the efficient design of UC's 32 LEED green-certified buildings, which are the most of any university. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, buildings adhere to a set of guidelines developed by the U.S. Green Building Council that are the industry standard for sustainable practices such as using efficient lighting and cooling systems, water conservation and reduction of carbon emissions.

"UC's commitment to sustainability not only saves the university money, it's the right thing to do," said Nathan Brostrom, UC's executive vice president for business operations. "Throughout our history, the university has been a leader on issues of the environment. Sustainability — which is part of our teaching, our research and our public service — is driven by the energy and innovation of our students, staff and faculty."

Renewable energy goals

As part of its sustainability strategy, UC has also set goals for increasing the use of renewable energy and for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

UC's policy sets a goal to install 10 megawatts of on-campus renewable energy generation by 2014. To date, 3.5 megawatts of solar power-generation capacity has been installed, including a 1-megawatt facility in Mercedwhich provides about 20 percent of the electricity on campus.

In addition, UC's sustainability policy requires that 20 percent of the electricity that the university purchases must come from renewable sources.

Using more renewable energy helps UC meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to year 2000 levels by 2014, to 1990 levels by 2020 and to achieve carbon neutrality (zero net greenhouse gases) as soon as possible.

The goals can't be met by campus efforts alone, according to an update that will be given to the Regents on March 23 by Wendell Brase, chair of the UC Climate Solutions Steering Group. Conceptual plans for large-scale, off-campus harnessing of wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy for UC are being developed.

Sustainable food

In fall 2009, requirements for sustainable food services were added to UC's sustainability policy. Students, who sent 10,000 postcards to the regents asking for more sustainable food options, again were an inspiration for the policy. Among the guidelines enacted in September was a goal for all campus-dining services to procure 20 percent of its food from sustainable sources (certified by a third party as organic or grown locally, among other criteria) by 2020. UC Berkeley and UC Davis already have exceeded this goal.

"This policy serves as an umbrella for all the work to be meaningful together," said Carney, now a doctoral student in anthropology studying food security and policy at UC Santa Barbara who also works as the campus sustainable food coordinator. "We have specific benchmarks we're all trying to achieve. I think it will encourage dialog between campuses. Already we're seeing campuses connecting with one another and sharing resources."

By May, campuses are being encouraged to complete feasibility studies on how to apply sustainable food service guidelines to medical centers, contract-operated and franchised operations.

UC's Annual Report on Sustainability Practices highlights other accomplishments, including:

As required by UC policy, all campuses completed climate action plans and have submitted or will submit them as required to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

The university negotiated a systemwide opt-in car-share contract to increase car-share services and utilization across the system. UC Santa Barbara, one of several campuses to opt into the contract, is saving $23,000 per year on its car-share program and has tripled the number of shared vehicles available.

Five campuses and the Office of the President have received certification for at least one LEED for Existing Buildings project from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Nine out of 10 campuses met the goal of diverting at least 50 percent of municipal waste from being sent to landfills. Riverside just missed its goal, but is implementing plans to be in compliance next year.

UC Santa Cruz eliminated trays in dining halls last year. The change discourages diners from taking more than they can eat and has reduced food waste by 30 percent, saved more than a million gallons of water and $500,000 in costs. Programs have been implemented at several other campuses with similar results and are being considered at the remaining campuses.

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