UC Irvine Ranked Top Green University in Nation for Second Straight Year

By John Jameson on Sep 02, 2015

The Anteaters are king of the hill – again. Better Buildings Challenge partner University of California, Irvine (UCI) has retained the No. 1 spot in Sierra magazine’s 2015 “Cool Schools” ranking of the country’s most sustainable college campuses. UCI is the first repeat winner as the school continues to show it is a national leader in sustainability and energy efficiency for the second year in a row.

UCI earned praise in particular for quadrupling its use of solar power in the past year, as well as diverting 80 percent of campus waste from landfills and launching a multidisciplinary initiative to save marine life, UCI Oceans. In 2014, UCI first topped the Sierra ranking as they became one of the first Better Buildings Challenge partners to achieve their 20% goal by reducing energy use 23% over 5 years – 7 years early. The school then doubled-down on its efficiency efforts by setting a second goal to reduce energy use 40% by 2020.

What is the key to UCI’s success? For starters, the university’s Smart Lab program has targeted some of the campus’ most energy intensive space. Laboratories consume a lot of energy, about 5 to 8 times as much as an average office building. In fact, labs consume or account for the majority of building energy on the UCI campus. To roll back energy use in labs, UCI challenged established best practices of lab design, and the school reengineered building control systems from bottom to top. Integrated control and sensor technologies now work together to, among other things, deliver the right amount of ventilation at the right time without compromising safety. The combined effects of all Smart Lab features can cut nonprocess energy use in half while creating a rich “information layer,” making the working environment safer by providing air quality data to users.

Beyond technological savvy, UCI believes part of its success can be attributed to core values and management practices. The school has constructed numerous buildings in the last 20 years without a single budget overrun, and the campus’ accident and injury rate is half that of other campuses in the UC system. The school attributes part of this culture of success to its Sustainable Performance Improvement Model. The validated performance model lists 19 effective management behaviors most strongly correlated with workplace and supervisory effectiveness, and subordinates are asked to score managers on these behaviors in an annual survey. Responses are shared with managers to provide constructive feedback, and expected and discouraged team behaviors are sometimes codified in team interaction agreements. This regular assessment and feedback helps develop strong managerial skills and healthy workplace interactions, empowering managers to help teams meet big goals.

As UC Irvine progresses towards its next goal, they will share their experiences implementing improvement projects and overcoming energy efficiency barriers in the Better Buildings Solution Center, an online tool designed to help users find tested and proven energy solutions. 

Learn more about UCI Irvine's partnership with the Energy Department through the Better Buildings Challenge here.