UCI News

Our campus, our Earth

UCI leads the way in environmental stewardship of the planet

April 20, 2021
Our campus, our Earth
Campus housing and student volunteers plant various environmentally-friendly trees and ground cover in Palo Verde housing at UCI during Earth Week 2018. Steve Zylius / UCI

UCI has always held Earth Day special. The university’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. 

No less than the official magazine of the Sierra Club has named UCI No. 1 overall in its annual “Cool Schools” ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. and Canadian universities and colleges four times in the last seven years.

UCI’s commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability appears in many campus activities. It’s what Anteaters do. Here are a few examples:

Advancing green transportation

  • 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.
  • Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school’s 20 all-electric shuttle buses and hydrogen fuel cell bus regularly carried 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.
  • 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.

Student leadership

  • More than 150 students are trained annually through the UCI Sustainability Resource Center, which provides resources, education and programming to advance environmental balance, economic vitality and social equity. 

Energy use reduction

  • 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 Services 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. As of last September, three mowers had 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 UCI’s 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.

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

  • With the opening of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building this spring, UCI has 21 new-construction LEED Platinum buildings, the most of any U.S. campus.