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UCI in the Lead for Second Major Sustainability Award in 2015


As the University of California’s online Cool Campus Challenge draws to a close on Dec. 10, UC Irvine, leading by over half a million points, is poised to become the systemwide challenge’s first winner.

The Cool Campus Challenge is a points-based sustainability competition between all ten UCs, as well as the UC Office of the President and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. UCI boasts the most participants, at 2,983 individuals, and is comfortably in the lead with 5.37 million points, compared to the next-closest campus, UCLA, with 4.63 million.  

Over 15,000 UC students, staff and faculty have participated so far in the challenge, which aims to promote the UC’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025. The challenge began on Oct. 6 and will end on Dec. 10, at which time the winning campus will be declared.

The online competition is based on the honor system — participants self-report their progress in sustainability, winning points on behalf of their campus for each act.

One user from UCI, “Tessa,” earned 150 points when she reported “closing doors and windows,” and another 50 for uploading a profile picture to the site. Another user from UCI earned 42 points for “curtailing energy use.” Participants tend to rack up points by reporting the same action multiple times in a row, though the online system automatically caps this practice at five repeated actions.

Users can win up to 950 points for reporting actions like “taking public transit,” and verifying their pledge to do so by uploading any self-confirming “story” longer than 20 characters.

Promoting sustainability and helping one’s respective campus win the Cool Campus Challenge are not the only incentives for users to report points — over the course of the challenge, UC Irvine sponsored drawings for a free bike and solar-powered cellphone chargers for any user with over 5,000 points, and drawings for cash prizes ranging from $50 to $450 for any user or group with over 10,000 points.  

UCI’s potential win of the Cool Campus Challenge could mark its second sustainability-related achievement in 2015, after being nationally recognized as America’s “coolest” university earlier this year.

In August, UC Irvine topped the list of Sierra magazine’s “Cool Schools” list for the second consecutive year. UCI is the first school to ever win the number one spot twice, and this win marks the sixth time UCI has been among the top ten in Sierra’s ranking of most environmentally-friendly schools.

Sierra’s ranking system is based on a series of self-reported surveys sent in by universities; 153 schools submitted questionnaires in 2015 to be tallied for Sierra’s eighth annual ranking.

Sierra cites UCI’s progress in waste management and promotion of public transportation among the strengths that won the university the top spot earlier this year.

“UCI is especially good at managing its trash (more than 80 percent of campus waste is diverted from landfills), getting energy from clean sources, and encouraging students and employees to step away from the car by offering train rebates, bus-­pass discounts, and a free shuttle,” according to Sierra’s website.  “UCI quadrupled its use of solar power in the past year, adding 11,700 panels in June to reduce its annual carbon emissions by 1,500 metric tons.”

The solar panels, a series of photovoltaic canopies over the Social Sciences, Student Center and Mesa parking structures, generate an annual 3.2 megawatts of power for UCI, enough to meet the electrical needs of 1,800 homes, or to take 320 cars off the road.

The magazine also mentions UCI’s Global Sustainability Resource Center (GSRC) as a factor in the university’s win. The GSRC, open three days per week, is located in a small room on the fourth floor of UCI’s Student Center South, and is dedicated as a “hub for students and community partners to co-create and experience an integrated, holistic resilience framework that addresses the root causes of sustainability crises.”

The GSRC offers internships, leadership programs, workshops and expert counselors for students interested in promoting sustainability.

The GSRC encourages more UCI students to take advantage of campus resources dedicated to sustainability, as Irvine’s campus is becoming the model of environmentalism not only to other UCs, but to universities worldwide.

“[The GSRC] informs our students’ academic pursuits, career choices, and ways of life,” according to their mission statement. “As the University of California steps up as a global force for climate resilience, GSRC enables UC Irvine students to shape this legacy.”