Sierra Club Lauds UConn’s Sustainability Efforts

Students from EcoHouse and Spring Valley Farm hand out potted plants during one of the university's recent Earth Day celebrations. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Students from EcoHouse and Spring Valley Farm hand out potted plants during one of the university's recent Earth Day celebrations. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The University of Connecticut is again recognized as one of the nation’s most sustainable campuses by the Sierra Club — receiving top billing in the nation for water usage, in particular.

The university is among the top five of more than 800 schools in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2019 Sustainable Campus Index, which ranks colleges and universities in 17 sustainability impact areas. The rating system looks at sustainability measures implemented in a range of areas including building design, food and dining, waste, water, and grounds.

A combination of efforts contributed to UConn’s first place in the water usage category, such as retrofitting buildings with low-flow faucets, toilets and showerheads, replacing aging steam system infrastructure, and maximizing use of our state-of-the art reclaimed water facility to use recycled wastewater in place of drinking water for certain high-demand purposes, says Richard Miller, director of UConn’s Office of Sustainability.

“UConn’s water conservation efforts over the past decade have been extraordinary and culminated last year in a 51% reduction in water use over that time period, even as our enrollment increased significantly,” says Miller.

UConn continues to set ambitious goals to work towards having an increasingly sustainable campus, he adds. Notable achievements since last year’s rankings include a student- and faculty-led effort to implement an environmental literacy general education requirement, and a united effort by environmental student groups across campus urging the Presidential Search Committee to consider only those candidates with demonstrated commitments to sustainability.

“We’re never satisfied with the status quo. Technology is constantly evolving and existential threats like climate change demand a sense of urgency and a commitment to innovative and sustainable practices,” says Miller. “As the state’s flagship university, UConn should lead by example in all aspects of its educational mission and operational activities.  That’s why we’ve already started the process of working with stakeholders across the university to set new sustainability goals and strategies for 2025.”

A view of the Innovation Partnership Building on Aug. 6, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
The Innovation Partnership Building was officially opened at a dedication ceremony on Sept. 20. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

UConn is home to 23 LEED certified or registered buildings. In 2016 the Board of Trustees raised UConn’s minimum green building standard from LEED Silver to LEED Gold in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Other LEED buildings on campus include Laurel Hall, McMahon Dining Hall, the new Student Recreation Center, and the Gant Complex renovations.

Workers from Greenwood Industries of Millbury MA plant the green roof of the west classroom building on May 2, 2011. 314,161 square feet of land has been disconnected from storm drainage, an example of low impact development. Low impact development, such as permeable surfaces, green roofs, and rain gardens are important measures UConn is taking to reduce the campus’ environmental footprint because storm water runoff can negatively impact the quality of water in streams and rivers around campus. (UConn Photo/Peter Morenus)
Workers from Greenwood Industries of Millbury MA plant the green roof of the west classroom building on May 2, 2011. 314,161 square feet of land has been disconnected from storm drainage, an example of low impact development. Low impact development, such as permeable surfaces, green roofs, and rain gardens are important measures UConn is taking to reduce the campus’ environmental footprint because storm water runoff can negatively impact the quality of water in streams and rivers around campus. (UConn Photo/Peter Morenus)
UConn’s total greenhouse gas emissions are on the decline despite increases in campus size and student enrollment.
UConn’s total greenhouse gas emissions are on the decline despite increases in campus size and student enrollment.
A jet turbine at the Cogeneration Plant onApril 20, 2018. UConn’s reclaimed water facility, the first of its kind in CT, continues to conserve hundreds of thousands of gallons of potable water every day by instead using reclaimed waste-water for such things as cooling water for boilers in the campus cogeneration and central utility plant, and “grey water” for flushing toilets in the new Innovation Partnership Building. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
A jet turbine at the Cogeneration Plant onApril 20, 2018. UConn’s reclaimed water facility, the first of its kind in CT, continues to conserve hundreds of thousands of gallons of potable water every day by instead using reclaimed waste-water for such things as cooling water for boilers in the campus cogeneration and central utility plant, and “grey water” for flushing toilets in the new Innovation Partnership Building. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Adjunct professor Ryan O’Connor consults students enrolled in an Internet of Things course that uses emerging technology to improve plant life at UConn’s Spring Valley Farm. Students, from left, are Nicole Hamilton '19 (BUS), Tara Watrous '19 (CLAS), and Radhika Kanaskar '18 (BUS). (Claire Hall/UConn Photo)
Adjunct professor Ryan O’Connor consults students enrolled in an Internet of Things course that uses emerging technology to improve plant life at UConn’s Spring Valley Farm. Students, from left, are Nicole Hamilton ’19 (BUS), Tara Watrous ’19 (CLAS), and Radhika Kanaskar ’18 (BUS). (Claire Hall/UConn Photo)

One area where UConn has consistently rated the highest in the Sustainable Campus Index is in food and dining. Sustainability efforts in this area include sourcing food from small, community-based and locally-owned farms. All eight residential dining units are Certified Green Restaurants.

A group hike following the reopening of the Hillside Environmental Education Park trail nearthe Innovation Partnership Building on April 26, 2018. UConn hosts a number of living laboratories such as the UConn Forest and the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP). Once a landfill, HEEP has since been extensively remediated and now hosts a rejuvenating ecosystem and wildlife habitat. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
A group hike following the reopening of the Hillside Environmental Education Park trail nearthe Innovation Partnership Building on April 26, 2018. UConn hosts a number of living laboratories such as the UConn Forest and the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP). Once a landfill, HEEP has since been extensively remediated and now hosts a rejuvenating ecosystem and wildlife habitat. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Faculty & students at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, December 2018 (UConn Office of Sustainability) .
Faculty & students at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, December 2018 (UConn Office of Sustainability) .

Since 2015, UConn has sent students and faculty representatives to the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) Climate Change Summit.

Keep up with the latest sustainability news and to learn about some of the green campus measures already in place, follow the UConn Office of Sustainability on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) or by downloading the 2019 UConn Sustainability Activity Book.  Get involved by enrolling your office in the Green Office Certification Program, joining student organizations like EcoHusky, or by using UConn Cycle Share or ZipCar for transportation.