Sustainability Corner: UCI, the Green School

UC Irvine, with all its beauty and research glory, holds a very interesting public persona. For some students, it is normal for their professors to be leading their field of research with projects like the Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. We, at UCI, tend to see ourselves as the conservative, yet technologically advanced, ThinkGeek-styled college campus. Rarely do we recognize our campus to be earth-friendly, eco-chic and progressively sustainable. News flash Santa Cruz, we’re actually doing a lot better than most universities across the country.

UCI’s path to sustainability jumpstarted in 2003 when every UC adopted the Policy on Green Building Design and Clean Energy Standards. This plan, now called the Policy on Sustainable Practices, mandated that UCI begin investing money and research towards sustainable practices. UCI began winning small awards, honorable mentions and best practices awards for retrofit lighting and campus owned transportation in 2006 and early 2007.

In March of 2007, UCI, along with all the other University of California campuses, joined the American Colleges and University President Climates Commitment which pledged that each campus would work towards eliminating greenhouse gases over time. UCI was quick to respond with working practices that advanced our emission free efforts. In 2008 alone, UCI won eight awards ranging from recognition in water saving efficiency, innovations in transportation and the governors recognition of UCI’s commitment to preventing climate change.

At the end of 2008 UCI secured its second Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-awarded building. LEED buildings are certified by the US Green Buildings Council, a third-party reviewer. Each LEED project submitted must acquire a certain amount of credits based on meeting LEED criteria. The main criteria include buildings that minimize their impact on ecosystems and water resource, water efficiency credits, credits for using sustainable building materials, and reducing waste as well as credits for improving indoor air quality and access to daylight and views. Not only did UCI submit the first campus-wide prototype for an LEED building in 2001, but it since then has five buildings that have reached LEED gold award standing. For UCI’s sustainable practices, this is only the stem of the green leaf.

Most of UCI’s sustainable efforts have been integrated so efficiently into our daily systems, that we as students would hardly notice. Take UCI Hospitality and Dining for example: their commitment is thorough. Eating at Commons and annoyed because you don’t have a tray? Chances are that you will waste more food when you have more room to carry it, so all the dining commons went tray-less. This is part of the effort from UCI Hospitality and Dining and Aramark to reduce food waste. Hospitality and Dining also save their workers rubber safety shoes and donate them to NIKE who repurposes them into track for elementary schools. This past summer, Facilities Management donated UCI Dining’s 33 boxes equaling 900 pounds of rubber shoes to NIKE. All Hospitality and Dining’s dining commons, the Bren Events Center and Phoenix Grill employ post consumer reduction practices included landfill diversion to recycling and composting. They also donate surplus food from their dining commons and catering business to Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, and to date have donated 4,800 pounds of food.

Facilities Management houses the little known department called UCI Recycles. This department does the grunt work for implementing all these zero waste and sustainable efforts. They help manage and collect data of the post-consumer landfill diversion, the LEED buildings, zero-waste events such as Wayzgoose, Celebrate UCI, and different events held by community members like the Bubble Run. Facilities Management recycles 22 different types of materials from construction debris, ink cartridges and electronics, to green waste and carpet. Their recycled paper goes to a local Goodwill processing plant which has allowed the plant to hire more people in the community, as well as UCI receiving money back on our huge recycled donations.

UCI Recycles won the California Resources Recovery Act (CRRA) “Zero Waste Achievement” Award this summer. In September of this year, UCI Recycles under Facilities Management and Aramark Dining gained recognition by EPA deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe for their excellent food diversion rates in the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. UCI went from diverting 90 tons of food in 2010 to 500 tons in 2012, and has now reached a campus-wide level of 83% diversion rates, about 7,500 pounds, for all recycled materials.

UCI is doing amazing things with sustainability, not just with big projects like LEED certified buildings, but smaller sustainable incorporations like retrofitting faucets and bathroom stalls that waste less water. The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) has funded smaller projects like the  hydration stations which alone have saved 14 tons of plastic from ending up in landfills and 191,000 gallons of water from being wasted by inefficient water bottle packing plants. Even this newspaper you are reading has been funded by TGIF for using post-consumer recycled paper and soy-based ink for more efficient recycling and compost breakdown.

For all our efforts, UCI has been recognized. In 2011, we secured a number 6 spot on the Sierra Club’s Top Ten Coolest Schools, which details college campuses that have great efforts and results from their sustainable practices. We also won Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Award which stems from the University President’s Climate Commitment we joined in 2007. Most recently, UCI received another recognition from the Sierra Club’s Ten Coolest Schools, but this time we climbed to number 3, beating out UC Davis, Stanford and Cornell for our implementation of green technology and social consciousness towards being cost-efficient and good partners with the environment.

We may not boast ourselves as environment-loving hippies, but UCI does a damn good job of acting like it.