As home to the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES), the University of California at Los Angeles is paving the way in setting a green example and pioneering eco-practices and programs on its West L.A. campus, which has the population equivalent of a city of 70,000.
“The whole UC system has set sustainability policy goals that all 10 campuses are striving to meet, and they run the gamut around different kinds of operations for each of the campuses; for example, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, aligning with the state of California AB-32 goals,” begins Cully Nordby, the IoES’ academic director and chair of the campus sustainability committee. “Our extra mile is that we’re going to reach those goals early. We have a climate action plan in place, and we have been reducing our greenhouse gas emissions for a while now. We have a co-generation plant that uses natural gas to create energy and captures the excess steam heat to create heating and chill water. It covers all of our heating and cooling and about 70 percent of our electricity use.
“We’re also reducing our waste,” Nordby continues. “The policy is to get to zero waste by the year 2020. We’ve eliminated Styrofoam. We’ve instituted a very aggressive recycling program. There are bins all over campus. We’re looking at the plastic bottle issue. And the institute has a program where we take teams of students and pair them with operations people on campus and they research ways to make the campus more sustainable. They are helping us do a pilot composting project because food waste is one of the big wastes that we need to get a handle on.” Since 1990, the school has reduced their greenhouse gas emissions per squarefoot by 26%.
Water conservation is another. “We’re instituting a new drought-tolerant landscaping project for new buildings and the landscape around them, with permeable paving to capture groundwater,” says Nordby. “One of the really innovative things we’re doing is using campus operations as a living laboratory, connecting cutting-edge researchers with campus operations. For example, we have a faculty member in engineering who’s looking at how you actually structure and monitor electric power-charging stations, and they’re piloting this technology in the parking structures on campus. We’re using the campus itself because we’re embracing our responsibility to demonstrate that a sustainable society can be achieved, that you can figure out a way to do this in a way that’s financially feasible and creates that sustainable community we’re striving for.”
Nordby has no trouble rallying student support for these initiatives. In fact, “it’s the other way around. The kids have really been pushing sustainability issues on campus from the beginning. We don’t really have to motivate them. They’re the ones that are pushing us to do better,” she says. “We have to keep up with them. It’s a good problem to have.”
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This is the second in a five-part series about UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability. Look for the third installment next week.