he green streak continues! Sierra magazine has named the University of California, Irvine No. 1 overall in its annual “Cool Schools” ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. and Canadian universities and colleges, marking the fourth time in the last seven years that UCI has topped the widely acclaimed list.
UCI’s history of environmental stewardship dates back to the Nobel Prize-winning research by 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 sustainability research and remarkable green accomplishments that has put the university at the forefront of American higher education.
“I am so pleased that once again Sierra magazine has recognized UCI as the nation’s No. 1 ‘Cool School’ for our leadership and achievements in this vital area,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “Across our campus, in virtually every academic discipline, our faculty, students and staff are actively pursuing the effective stewardship of the world we all live in.”
Today’s “Cool Schools” ranking makes UCI the only university to score in the top 10 for 11 consecutive years. It was No. 1 in 2014, 2015 and 2018 on the strength of its curriculum, research, campus operations and public engagement.
“The Sierra ‘Cool Schools’ rankings are respected as the most rigorous measure of an institution’s commitment to environmental and energy research, climate solutions, and the full array of environmental stewardship metrics,” said Wendell Brase, associate chancellor for sustainability at UCI. “Because of this comprehensive breadth, a high Sierra ranking is simply not possible without engagement of the entire faculty, student body and campus leadership. UCI’s legacy of Sierra honors can be claimed by all Anteaters developing research, teaching or seeking solutions across every facet of climate impacts.”
Advancing green transportation
Earlier this month, UCI was recognized by the 2020 Green Fleet Awards as having the 10th-greenest fleet of vehicles in the nation, making it the highest-ranked university on the list. The campus also won the Best University or College Fleet Merit Award for its reduction in fuel consumption and use of electrified student transportation.
The 100 Best Fleets website noted: “This fleet had amazing diesel reduction from 126K to 21K gallons from 2018 to 2019 through use of electric and hydrogen shuttle buses.” Overall, UCI stood out for its fleet composition, fuel and emissions, policy and planning, fleet utilization, education, executive and employee involvement, and support programming.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school’s 20 all-electric shuttle buses and hydrogen fuel cell bus regularly transported students throughout campus. In 2018, UCI became the first university in the country to abandon its traditional diesel fuel-powered buses and shift to completely sustainable transportation.
Over the past three years, UCI has boosted its number of electric vehicle charging stations and converted its central plant to a system that conserves over 80 million gallons of potable water per year while cooling campus buildings – 20 of which are certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design 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 faculty members are adapting medical and public health curricula to better prepare students to treat tropical diseases as they expand in range owing to climate change.
In addition, UCI is among 30 universities that made The Princeton Review’s 2021 Green Honor Roll by receiving a score of 99 (the highest possible) in its Green Rating tallies this year.
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 – universities can create demand for green services and products and lead by example. This year, Sierra evaluated more than 300 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 11 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 always have fascinating and often surprising sustainability endeavors underway and are truly standouts in this increasingly important space.”
UCI’s sustainability achievements also include:
- 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. UCI will be hosting climate resilience planning workshops beginning late this year.More than 150 students are trained each year through the UCI Sustainability Resource Center. The SRC is a hub for students, providing resources, education and programming to advance environmental balance, economic vitality and social equity.
- Energy use reductions
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative recognized UCI’s energy efficiency improvement of 29 percent campuswide since 2009.UCI’s award-winning Smart Labs Initiative has reduced laboratory energy use by as much as 60 percent and improved safety in new and existing laboratories.Recognized by the U. S. Department of Energy for attaining the 2020 goal of the Better Buildings Challenge seven years early, in 2013, UCI was the first educational institution in the nation to meet or exceed this objective, consuming 23 percent less energy in 2013 than in 2008.
- 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. It also won NACUFS sustainability awards for outreach and education (gold) and waste management (silver).
- Zero-emission landscape maintenance
UCI Student Housing has partnered 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 this year.
- Research activity
More than 220 faculty and students from 75 percent of the campus’s academic departments are engaged in sustainability research.
- 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.
- Sustainable transportation advances
UCI’s Pump2Plug is one of the first university incentive programs to encourage faculty and staff to convert from fossil-fuel vehicles to electric and plug-in vehicles by offering three years of free Level 1 charging and reduced-cost Level 2 charging on campus.The League of American Bicyclists has named UCI a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly University, one of only eight in the country to receive the highest designation. The campus has established itself as a leader in biking education, outreach and infrastructure.
- Recycling leader
UCI has achieved a top 10 RecycleMania ranking for the past 10 years, with an 81 percent waste diversion rate, the highest in the UC system. RecycleMania is an annual, international competition to promote recycling and reuse on campuses.
- LEED Platinum buildings
UCI has 20 new-construction LEED Platinum buildings, the most of any U.S. campus. With the opening of the Interdisciplinary Science & Engineering Building this fall, that number will increase to 21.
-photo by Steve Zylius/UCI