UCSB has once again scored highly within the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education 2019 Sustainable Campus Index, placing within the top ten in three categories and garnering a gold rating overall in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

UCSB is among 134 institutions which have been awarded with a gold rating or higher by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), out of the 970 campuses currently registered.

AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), an assessment of campus sustainability efforts, is a set of criteria intended to guide institutions and provide a frame of reference to measure sustainability progress in “all sectors of higher education,” according to the STARS 2.2 Technical Manual.  

STARS standards are organized into 19 categories, with 67 credits in total, and those credits further subdivided into individual points. These categories pertain to curriculum, research and the operations of the campus as a whole. For instance, in the category of Curriculum exists the credit AC 1, or Academic Courses, of which 14 points could potentially be earned. A campus earns points through sustainable practices related to a particular credit. 

The criteria are closely aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a 15-year agenda with 169 targets meant to balance “the three dimensions of sustainable development, the economic, social and environmental,” according to the manual. STARS may be used by an institution in order to gauge contributions to SDGs.  

UCSB placed ninth in the waste category through its efforts in waste management. UCSB diverts 69% of its waste stream away from landfills through composting and recycling. / Courtesy of Isla Vista Surfrider Foundation

From the curricular and faculty perspective, 50.8% of academic departments at UC Santa Barbara offer at least one course related to sustainability, while 47% of academic departments contain at least one researcher whose work pertains to sustainability. 

Additionally, UCSB ranked fifth in the buildings category of STARS, receiving 59.8% of the available points, compared to an average of 35.5%. Over two million square feet of UCSB is made up of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, with the most recent ones constructed attaining the highest rating for sustainable design, according to Katie Maynard, a sustainability coordinator in the geography department.

“Sierra Madre, [Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics], San Joaquin Villages, and Bio Engineering all attained a LEED Platinum rating, the highest possible,” Maynard said in an email to the Nexus.

UCSB received another LEED Platinum rating in 2017 for the construction of the Portola Dining Commons, and Bren Hall received a third LEED Platinum certification that year.

UCSB ranked also ranked ninth in the waste category, receiving 75.8% of the available points, compared to an average of 48%. This can be attributed to the significant progress the campus has made in regard to waste management. UCSB diverts 69% of its waste stream away from landfills through composting and recycling.

In addition, programs have been established to recirculate food and clothing to those in need, providing a service and avoiding further waste.  “665 students received 1,454 articles of free clothing from the Career Clothing Closet, a campus pop-up thrift store that provides students with free clothing for job interviews and the workplace,” Maynard said. 

The first organics collection program in San Clemente Villages was also established last year, as a collaboration between Associated Students Recycling (ASR), the Bren School Sustainability Committee (BSSC) and Housing, Dining & Auxiliary Enterprises. 

“Last year BSSC and ASR worked together to recruit and educate 136 apartments and divert over 4.5 tons of compostable material from the landfill, thus reducing 3 metric tons of CO2-equivalent,” Maynard noted. She also added that “FoodCycling picked up 12,286 lbs of food that would have gone into compost and diverted it to the AS Food Bank.” 

 In 2019, a Best Practice Award was presented to Housing, Dining and Auxiliary Enterprises’ Miramar Food Pantry for sustainable food service.

UCSB also ranked ninth in investment and finance, receiving 69% of the available points, compared to an average of 18%. Investment and Finance include such credits as disclosure of investments, investor responsibility, and sustainable investment. 

A 2018 Best Practice Award was presented to UCSB at the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference in Renewable Energy for their project to increase the renewable energy generating capacity of the campus tenfold, according to Maynard. A multi-site Power Purchase Agreement has solarized the energy mix, helping renewables generate one-third of the campus’s peak electrical demand and 15% of the annual electrical consumption. 

Furthermore, Scope One and Two greenhouse gas emissions — direct emissions from controlled sources, such as vehicles and equipment managed by the campus, and indirect sources from the generation of purchased power respectively, such as electricity bought from power grids — have fallen 21% from 2013. Overall, the campus has reduced the intensity of energy use by 19% over ten years. 

Still, the work is far from over, and UCSB aims to reach Climate Neutrality, in which there would be no net release of carbon dioxide from scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2025, according to Maynard. 

UC Santa Barbara continues to make strides in environmental progressiveness, both at the administration and student level. In 2018, 83% of UCSB students voted to reaffirm The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), a green fee created by students in 2006 intended to reduce UCSB’s environmental impact with a lock-in fee. 

“In Spring TGIF allocated $191,364 to fund 20 student, faculty, and staff led projects,” Maynard wrote. 

“UCSB is committed to being a living laboratory for sustainability efforts where students can learn from their physical environment and local community in addition to learning in the classroom.”


Sean Crommelin
Sean Crommelin is the Science and Tech Editor for the Daily Nexus. He can be reached at science@dailynexus.com