January 14 2013

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) First to Achieve Gold STARS Sustainability Rating

UCSD, a public research university overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California, is being called The Living Lab, a model of sustainability in education, research, and university operations. Home to 29,000 students, it is one of the most environmentally progressive campuses in North America, reflected in its landscape and buildings, services and management, curricula, and user engagement.

Visible sustainability is abundant:

  • Xeriscaped landscapes (water conserving) of native coastal chaparral;
  • State-of-the-art buildings with green roofs and complex water retention systems;
  • Labs, offices, and lecture halls that harvest daylight and use fan-assisted natural ventilation;
  • PV arrays on rooftops and over parked cars;
  • Continuous, real-time energy monitoring displays;
  • Community gardens among the six residential colleges;
  • Compost bins behind cafes, restaurants, and dining halls.

Rady School of Management on UCSD campusEvery new building exceeds current energy efficiency codes, as architects and engineers compete to develop clever energy management innovations. A just-finished building uses multiple electrical systems to control plug loads, with color-coded outlets indicating those that will be shut off after work hours.

Less visible sustainability at UCSD includes green purchasing policies, campus-wide recycling, low-flow water faucets, recycled water, and weather-informed landscape irrigation, a central cogeneration plant, a fuel cell that operates on natural gas reclaimed from a landfill site, and the microgrid, a network that locally controls and integrates electricity supply and demand on campus, yet is interconnected with the larger grid.

The university dining service also manages a farm-to-table program, with local growers supplying fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. This supports the

UCSD Real-time display of energy produced

University of California goal that 20% of food served on campuses will be from sustainable sources by 2020.

In all, UCSD is a showcase of sustainable policies and programs, a campus of healthy and productive spaces to live, work, conduct research, teach, learn, play, and eat.

What are other colleges and universities doing to engage students in sustainability on campus?

Credits: Photos by Michael Lytton and data linked to sources.

Michael Lytton

Michael Lytton is a peripatetic planner and writer. Originally from Vancouver, B.C., he has lived in Victoria, Toronto, New York, Charlottesville, Tirana, Albania, Los Angeles, and now San Diego. He is a city planner with LEED Sustainable Design certification. He is also an educational-facilities capital planning expert with experience at national, state/provincial, and local school district levels. A life-long urban walker, he is concerned about the social, economic, environmental, and personal health costs of car-dominated cities. He is encouraged by visionaries such as Jan Gehl, Enrique Peñalosa, and Richard Sennett, who are exploring solutions to mega-cities, slums, inequality, urban obstacles to cooperation, and private interests that prevail over the public good. These and other critical thinkers are independently working on a shared goal of improving the quality of life in cities and understanding how the built environment can help people flourish.

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This entry was posted on Monday, January 14th, 2013 at 10:05 pm and is filed under Architecture, Environment, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


One Response to “University of California, San Diego (UCSD) First to Achieve Gold STARS Sustainability Rating”

  1. Robert Poole Says:


    This is both interesting and surprising to me. I grew up in San Diego and I have always been under the impression that because it is such a conservative county, progressive planning and development did not have a strong presence. Do you see this changing or is UCSD a rare example of this type of project?

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