Campus has been in top 10 for unmatched 12 straight years, with 4 first-place finishes

Sierra magazine has named the University of California, Irvine No. 2 overall in its annual “Cool Schools” ranking of sustainability leaders among U.S. and Canadian universities and colleges, marking the 12th time in a row that UCI has placed in the top 10 of the widely acclaimed list.

UCI’s history of environmental stewardship dates back to the Nobel Prize-winning research by chemistry professor F. Sherwood Rowland into the depletion of the ozone layer almost five decades ago. This work led to the development and growth of UCI’s campus culture of eco-friendly practices, groundbreaking sustainability research and remarkable green accomplishments that has put the university at the forefront of American higher education.

“I am so pleased that once again Sierra magazine has recognized UCI as the nation’s No. 2 ‘Cool School’ for our leadership and achievements in this vital area,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “Across our campus, in virtually every academic discipline, our faculty, students and staff are actively pursuing the effective stewardship of the world we all live in.”

Today’s “Cool Schools” ranking makes UCI the only university to score in the top 10 for 12 consecutive years. It was No. 1 in 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2020 on the strength of its curriculum, research, campus operations and public engagement.

“The Sierra ‘Cool Schools’ rankings are respected as the most rigorous measure of an institution’s commitment to environmental and energy research, climate solutions, and the full array of environmental stewardship metrics,” said Wendell Brase, associate chancellor for sustainability at UCI. “Because of this comprehensive breadth, a high Sierra ranking is simply not possible without engagement of the entire faculty, student body and campus leadership. UCI’s legacy of Sierra honors can be claimed by all Anteaters developing research, teaching or seeking solutions across every facet of climate impacts."

Anteater Express on campus

Advancing green transportation

Previously, UCI was recognized by the 2020 Green Fleet Awards as having the 10th-greenest fleet in the nation, making it the highest-ranked university on the list. It also won the Best University or College Fleet Merit Award for its reduction in fuel consumption and use of electrified student transportation. In 2018, UCI became the first university in the country to abandon its traditional, diesel fuel-powered buses and shift to completely sustainable transportation with a fleet of 20 all-electric shuttle buses and a hydrogen fuel cell bus that transport students throughout campus.

Over the past several years, UCI has boosted its number of electric vehicle charging stations and converted its central plant to a system that conserves over 80 million gallons of potable water per year while cooling campus buildings – 21 of which are certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum and seven of which are zero-waste facilities.

In addition, UCI is among 30 universities that made The Princeton Review’s 2021 Green Honor Roll by receiving a score of 99 (the highest possible) in its Green Rating tallies last year.

The official publication of the Sierra Club, Sierra magazine initiated the college sustainability rankings in 2007 because – as the biggest purchasers and employers in many communities – universities can create demand for green services and products and lead by example. This year, Sierra evaluated more than 300 institutions in 19 categories, ranging from teaching and research to public engagement and campus operations.

“As UCI is the only university to have ranked in the top 10 ‘Cool Schools’ for an unprecedented 12 years and counting, we’re continually impressed with its commitment to modeling, teaching and embodying excellent environmental stewardship in all areas,” said Katie O’Reilly, Sierra’s adventure and lifestyle editor. “The Anteaters always have fascinating and often surprising sustainability endeavors underway and are truly standouts in this increasingly important space."

Sustainability infographic
Sustainability infographic

UCI’s sustainability achievements also include:

  • Student leadership
    UCI has expanded its Student Leadership Institute for Climate Resilience across the entire UC system, introducing first-year and transfer students to some of the major challenges and opportunities of building community climate resilience, as well as tools for action. UCI will be hosting climate resilience planning workshops again this year. More than 150 students are trained each year through the UCI Sustainability Resource Center. The SRC is a hub for students, providing resources, education and programming to advance environmental balance, economic vitality and social equity.
  • Energy use reductions
    In 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative recognized UCI’s energy efficiency improvement of 29 percent campuswide since 2009. UCI’s award-winning Smart Labs Initiative has reduced laboratory energy use by as much as 60 percent and improved safety in new and existing laboratories. Recognized by the U. S. Department of Energy for attaining the 2020 goal of the Better Buildings Challenge seven years early, in 2013, UCI was the first educational institution in the nation to meet or exceed this objective, consuming 23 percent less energy in 2013 than in 2008.
  • Sustainable food service practices
    UCI Dining received the 2019 grand prize for excellence in sustainable dining from the National Association of College & University Food Services. It also won NACUFS sustainability awards for outreach and education (gold) and waste management (silver).
  • Zero-emission landscape maintenance
    UCI Student Housing partnered with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to replace aging gasoline-powered landscape maintenance equipment with cordless, emissions-free products.
  • Research activity
    More than 220 faculty and students from 75 percent of the campus’s academic departments are engaged in sustainability research.
  • Community involvement
    Started in part by the UCI Program in Public Health, ¡Plo-NO! Santa Ana is a community-academic partnership bringing together city leaders, faculty, staff and students to discuss and address lead and other contaminants affecting residents of Santa Ana.
  • Sustainable transportation advances
    UCI’s Pump2Plug is one of the first university incentive programs to encourage faculty and staff to convert from fossil-fuel vehicles to electric and plug-in vehicles by offering three years of free Level 1 charging and reduced-cost Level 2 charging on campus. The League of American Bicyclists has named UCI a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly University, one of only eight in the country to receive the highest designation. The campus has established itself as a leader in biking education, outreach and infrastructure. 
  • LEED Platinum buildings
    UCI has 21 new-construction LEED Platinum buildings, the most of any U.S. campus.