Top Ten Sustainable Initiatives of the University of Chicago


The University of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, has long been a leader of sustainable initiatives throughout the campus. For example, during winter break, the university powers down electronics to reduce unnecessary energy consumption, and the university has specific locations to recycle electronic waste, or e-waste. The University of Chicago greatly believes in creating a sustainable campus that is not only beneficial for the environment but all to the entire campus community. The hope is not only will the University of Chicago become more sustainable, but the entire university community will take the lessons and tools in sustainability and use them outside the university as well.

1 ) University of Chicago Office of Sustainability. The University of Chicago Office of Sustainability was established in the year 2008 and works to “Mitigate the University’s impact on the environment, raise visibility of sustainability issues on campus, and advance intellectual debate and analysis on the critical environment issues of our time.” The Office of Sustainability takes to heart the Chicago Climate Plan and works to implement the features in that climate plan to the sustainability efforts at the University of Chicago. The office is involved in a number of sustainability sectors including buildings, dining services, energy, transportation, recycling, purchasing, and landscaping.

2 ) Administration. The primary administration organization at the University of Chicago is the Sustainability Council. The council holds a number of green practices and gardening workshops, composts at coffee shops, hosts Earth Week events, and a number of other sustainability related initiatives. The administration makes sure a number of sustainability incentives are carried out, such as ensuring that all cleaning products used around the campus are Green Seal certified and that all paper and paper towel products bought from the campus at the University of Chicago are postconsumer recycled.

3 ) Climate Change and Energy. The University of Chicago utilized a centralized energy management system to watch energy use in all buildings and a system to regulate all temperatures based on the occupancy of the building. Installed in all buildings include lighting sensors, efficiency fume hoods, and LED lights. There is a SAGE poster campaign that encourages all students to turn off computers and lights when not in use, using revolving doors, and keeping all windows closed. The University of Chicago buys five percent of all residential building energy from renewable sources of electricity. The university has recently completed a carbon dioxide emissions inventory and has started a number of energy audits as well as efficiency upgrades in a number of buildings on campus.

4 ) Food and Recycling. The University of Chicago’s Dining Services only purchases hormone-free milk and seafood in accordance to sustainability guidelines. The university also only serves fair trade coffee at all points on campus. All dining locations at residence halls compost their pre-consumer and postconsumer food scraps. There is an annual event that collects nontraditional waste and all unwanted items, rather than sending them to a landfill are swapped through an online marketplace created by the University of Chicago.

5 ) Green Building. Both the Searle Chemistry Lab and Kenwood Building are LEED Gold certified in accordance to the standards set up by the United States Green Building Council. There are another four buildings that are currently pending LEED certification. There are a number of landscaping practices including using the compost as fertilizer and using an integrated pest management program. The university only uses paints that are low in VOCs and low-flow fixtures have been installed throughout the campus. Currently there is a solar installation system, the first one, in progress to be built at the arts center.

6 ) Student Involvement. The student members of the Green Campus Initiative at the University of Chicago have a yearly residential hall energy conservation competition; as well the initiative has worked hard to reduce the use of bottled water throughout campus. A number of students are also involved with the Sustainable Council, and some students are looking to start planting gardens outside of the residential halls.

7 ) Transportation. The University of Chicago offers free parking to administration, faculty, and staff members that carpool to work every day and have at least three people in car. Those who commute to school by bicycle are able to receive a discount on their gym membership. Students and employees that use public transportation receive 24 free one-time parting permits as well as a guaranteed ride home. The local buses are free to students and employees that carry around a valid university identification card. The University of Chicago also has a car-sharing and bicycle-sharing program available to interested individuals.

8 ) Campus Planning. The University of Chicago campus is doing everything it can to ensure a sustainable environment for current and future students. It has set up a number of sustainable goals for the future, including using the city of Chicago energy grid, improving all accesses and connections throughout the university, increase and improve the options for transportation in and around the campus neighborhood, and develop much better transit connections throughout the city as well as the region.

9 ) SAGE. SAGE, short for Sustainable Actions for a Greener Environment, is the main offshoot of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Chicago and its core message revolves around environmental awareness. SAGE offers clearly states and simple steps that individuals at the university, from students to employees, can use to reduce their environmental footprint and reap the economic benefits of doing so. There are SAGE posters throughout the campus, providing individuals with ideas on how to become more sustainable. Those who really want to get involved can become SAGE Ambassadors who provide advice on everything from recycling to where to buy LED lights.

10 ) The Sustainability Council. The Sustainability Council was established in 2004 by the Green Campus Initiative to advocate for a sustainable campus. The council does quite a bit, it “Engages in policy review, providing consultation and recommendations; advises the University on sustainability initiatives, programs, and policies; assesses institutional progress toward increasing sustainability on campus; promotes greater environmental awareness throughout the university; [and]centralizes information on sustainability at the University.”

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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