solar panels
UC Irvine cuts greenhouse gas emissions from the (efficiently irrigated) ground up. Daniel A. Anderson / UCI

In ways that have altered nearly every aspect of campus life, UC Irvine has reduced the energy needed to keep the place humming, serving as a model for other large organizations seeking to shrink their carbon footprints.

“Environmental stewardship at UCI began long before we even heard the words ‘green,’ ‘LEED,’ or ‘carbon-neutrality,'” says Wendell Brase, vice chancellor of Administrative and Business Services. “UCI started its first vanpool program in 1989, set a goal of outperforming state energy code requirements by 20 percent or more in 1992, and started an on-campus tree nursery in 1995. These are just a few examples of UCI’s forward-thinking environmental initiatives.”

Home to F. Sherwood Rowland, the Nobel laureate who discovered that chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer, UCI has become a leader in lowering greenhouse gas emissions through a broad spectrum of carbon-saving measures:

Commuting to campus? To reduce CO2 emissions, UCI has myriad programs for muzzling vehicle tailpipes — from carpool incentives to rented Zipcars for those who come by train, bus or bike.

Like to stroll Aldrich Park? The campus’s lush landscaping is irrigated with reclaimed water, and a computerized weather station tells the sprinklers when the soil needs a dose of moisture.

Staying cool? Keeping warm? A cogeneration plant supplies the campus with electrical power, chilled water, and hot water by capturing and using heat produced by electrical generation, reducing an estimated 39,000 metric tons of CO2.

Need a drink? All water coolers installed after 2005 are Energy Star-rated; they consume about half the energy of conventional units. Student Housing uses Energy Star washing machines too. UCI was the first UC campus to implement an Energy Star-purchasing policy.

And — not to get too personal — the toilets? They’re high-efficiency models, along with ultra-low-flow urinals.

These and other conservation measures have turned UCI into one eco-friendly campus.

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented the university with an Environmental Achievement Award for its Sustainable Transportation program, which eliminates more than 18,000 metric tons of CO2 annually by promoting alternative transportation, such as car-sharing, bicycling and walking. The program also won a Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2008.

UCI’s new Student Center was awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council — the third campus structure and first student center in the state to achieve this nationally recognized benchmark for sustainable buildings. A dozen more UCI facilities are pursuing LEED certification for new construction, and Croul Hall has applied for a LEED existing building award.

In addition, the campus has received one of five 2008 Flex Your Power awards in the best-overall category; the 2008 Clean Air Award for innovative transportation projects from the South Coast Air Quality Management District; and numerous other honors.

The UCI community — including faculty who conduct cutting-edge environmental research in fields such as engineering, physical sciences, and biological sciences; students who engage in green activities, and staff who make campus operations more sustainable — contributes on many fronts to help save the planet.

Here are just a few of the university’s key energy-saving projects. For more, view the slide show.

  • Biodiesel buses: In April 2007, UCI became the first UC campus to roll out shuttle buses that run on 100 percent biodiesel fuel (made from soybeans) in an effort to lower CO2 emissions.
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles: UCI’s Advanced Power and Energy Program is evaluating a prototype Toyota plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or PHEV, to determine how the technology’s widespread use would affect air quality and demand for electricity in California. PHEVs are plugged into electrical outlets to charge onboard batteries that allow them to operate on electricity longer than current hybrid vehicles.
  • Zipcar: This program encourages faculty, staff and students to walk, bike, carpool or take the bus or train to campus by making cars available for errands, meetings or zipping around town.

Originally published in Zotzine Vol. 1, Iss. 7