Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, March 2016
Five UC Sustainability Trends: UC Sustainability Accomplishments Summarized in 2015 Annual Report
The 2015 University of California Annual Report on Sustainable Practices was presented to the Regents on January 21st. The report highlights the University of California’s key sustainability accomplishments across nine key areas: green building, clean energy, transportation, climate protection, sustainable operations, waste reduction and recycling, environmentally preferable purchasing, sustainable foodservice, and sustainable water systems.
Last month we highlighted UCSF’s key sustainability accomplishments. This month, we highlight five notable accomplishments and trends discussed in the new 2015 UC Annual Report:
1. UC commits to going carbon neutral by 2025 and released Bending the Curve report;
2. UC gets more invested in socially responsible investing;
3. UC gets efficient;
4. UC invests in solar; and
5. UC engages faculty, staff, and students.
Each is discussed in more detail below.
#1: UC Commits to Going Carbon Neutral by 2025 and Released Bending the Curve Report
UC is the first research university system in the country to commit to emitting zero-net greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025. As part of the University’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative UC convened a summit last fall where Bending the Curve was released, a report on scalable climate solutions that drew from the work of 50 UC faculty members across multiple disciplines. Bending the Curve presents 10 solutions, all of which the plan says can be implemented immediately and expanded rapidly — to clean our air and keep global warming under two degrees Celsius and, at the same time, provide breathing room for the world to fully transition to carbon neutrality in the coming decades. Refer to the Executive Summary for more details. The recommendations in this report were taken to the Paris COP21 climate talks. “The report and the announcement of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (see below), helped in a small way to influence the Paris COP21 climate accord—we were able to play a role in that global negotiation,” explained Matt St. Clair, the UC Office of the President, Director of Sustainability.
#2: UC Gets More Invested in Socially Responsible Investing
“…the University’s commitment to environmental stewardship also extends to its Investments,” said Janet Napolitano, UC President. As reported in the Annual Report, in February of last year, UC became the first university in the world to sign the Montreal Carbon Pledge, sponsored by the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, an international network of investors with some $45 trillion in assets under management. This is a first step toward measuring the long-term investment risks associated with climate change and carbon regulation. UC is now committed to measuring and annually disclosing the carbon footprint of its investments, with the goal of using this information to inform carbon asset risk and management strategies.
Another major milestone for 2015 was UC committing to allocating $1 billion over five years to investment in climate change and sustainability solutions, a decision that the White House recognized as part of its Clean Energy Investment Initiative. Building on this commitment, UC became a founding member of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of investors led by Bill Gates committed to investing in technology that can help solve energy and climate challenges.
According to St. Clair, UC Investments’ broader sustainability agenda also includes co-sponsoring climate-related shareholder resolutions consistent with the values and criteria outlined in the Framework for Sustainable Investing. In addition, he explained that UC has also committed to evaluate its entire portfolio of $100 billion for environmental, social, and governance criteria. It was exciting to learn that in 2015, UC weeded out all of its direct holdings of coal-mining and oil-sands investments from its portfolio. “This is one of the most exciting things we did last year,” said St. Clair.
According to Earth Island Journal, “the University of California announced that it had dumped $200 million worth of holdings in coal and tar sands from its massive investment fund.” While this sell-off represents a mere fraction of its overall portfolio, with its 10 campuses and 238,000 students, UC is one of the largest university systems in the world, so this added momentum to the divestment movement. “This is a huge, huge, huge win,” said Karthik Ganapathy, spokesperson for 350.org. This, “Adds a lot of momentum to the divestment campaign and right when we need it.”
#3: UC Gets Efficient
In 2015, UC implemented 72 energy efficiency projects with $6.7 million in incentive payments from the statewide Energy Efficiency Partnership program. Those projects are projected to save approximately 23 million kilowatt-hours of electricity and 1.2 million therms of natural gas annually. At UCSF, six major retrofit and upgrade projects in the past three years have saved close to $1.49 million per year, including the Clinical Laboratory Chiller replacement project, which alone will save 286,000 kWh and $43,000 per year.
#4: UC Invests in Solar
UC has made significant investments in solar the past year, both onsite at campuses and off-site. Two new off-site solar photovoltaic (PV) installations totaling 80MW that will be completed this year, supplying 60 percent of the University’s direct access electricity demand. Napolitano stressed, “These represent the largest solar energy purchase by any U.S. higher education institution, and will help us power UC campuses and medical centers more sustainably.”
In addition, onsite campus solar installations continue to increase. In 2015 UC Davis opened a 16-megawatt (MW) solar farm—the largest onsite solar energy installation of any university in the country. This installation more than doubled the total installed solar energy on UC campuses to 30.7 MW, surpassing its original policy goal to install 10 MW of renewable energy on campuses by 300%. An additional 26 MW of solar projects on UC campuses are being developed, so UC’s on-campus solar numbers will continue to increase.
#5: UC Engages Faculty, Staff, and Students
In addition to these lofty, large-scale accomplishments, it will take the engagement of UC faculty, staff and students to meet UC’s goals. For example, the University launched a systemwide carbon reduction campaign, Cool Campus Challenge in the fall, to create a stronger culture of sustainability across all the campuses. More than 19,000 people participated in the Challenge.
St. Clair concluded, “We all have our own personal and professional carbon footprint and unique opportunities to make an impact.” He encouraged the UCSF community to look for opportunities to reduce energy use and climate impacts in the lab and health care environment.