A group of five college students examining a plant in a greenhouse.
Story Sustainability

5 Ways The CSU Rocks Sustainability

Alisia Ruble

In honor of Earth Month, we’re celebrating how the campuses of the CSU provide opportunities for students to engage in the green economy and become better stewards of our natural resources.

A group of five college students examining a plant in a greenhouse.

Photo courtesy of Sacramento State

​​​The California State University has made a deep commitment to reducing its impact on the Earth, and with 23 campuses, 53,000 employees and nearly half a million students, innovations the CSU is implementing are wide-reaching and have the potential to make a significant impact. Here are just a few ways the CSU is tackling sustainability: 

1. Saying Goodbye to Single-Use Plastics
It’s been a little over one year since the CSU enacted a new policy to eliminate purchases of disposable plastic supplies while giving preference to reusable, compostable or recyclable products. Each campus has since adopted and implemented a plan to eliminate single-use items such as Styrofoam and water bottles ahead of the proposed implementation date. 

Chico State was the first CSU campus to go straw-free, launching an educational campaign on campus to raise awareness of the environmental impact of single-use plastics and engaging Dining Services to make alternatives available. Humboldt State is also ahead of the curve, having stopped selling plastic water bottles in 2012—the first public university in California to do so. Campuses like Cal State LA and Cal Poly Pomona​ have also made great efforts to educate their campus communities on the benefits of eliminating single-use plastics and encourage alternatives.

2. Becoming Energy-Saving Stars
The CSU has made significant progress toward meeting the university-wide Sustainability Policy goals of improving energy efficiency—the lowest-cost way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To facilitate these projects, the CSU has partnered with the UC and the investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in the UC-CSU-Utility Energy Efficiency Partnership.

Since 2015, the CSU has installed $128 million in energy efficient projects and continues to seek out additional opportunities to reduce energy use. CSU campuses are also investing in energy-saving strategies during construction. The CSU currently has 49 LEED-certified buildings on 17 different campuses, with more facilities coming online each year. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement. Learn how one CSU campus is leading with LEED

3. Developing “Green” Job Opportunities 
“Green” jobs are becoming a hot commodity as more companies search for ways to reduce the human impact on the environment, and the CSU is ready to meet the demand for highly-skilled employees.

At CSU San Marcos—a campus with more military-connected students per capita than any other in the CSU—one program is excelling in creating opportunities for vets who want to go into engineering or science. This workforce development program, Veterans To Energy Careers (VTEC), gives veterans paid internships at private sector aerospace, gas and electric companies, along with professional development and one-on-one mentorship. 

4. Educating Future Generations
The CSU and the University of California hosted the Environmental and Climate Change Literacy Project and Summit (ECCLPS) in December 2019, a collaborative effort to integrate sustainability into PK-12 curriculum. The shared goal is to ensure that 500,000 graduating California high school students per year are literate in environmental and climate change issues. CSU and UC campuses will train current and future teachers to ensure they are prepared to educate PK-12 students in sustainability. 

CSU campuses have also integrated sustainability across the university curriculum. In addition to offering degrees and minors in topics related to sustainability, the CSU offers more than 4,500 sustainability related courses. Additionally, several campuses have integrated sustainability into General Education (GE) requirements through a sustainability theme or pathway, allowing students to fulfill their GE requirements while simultaneously acquiring depth of knowledge in the field.

5. Ranking High
CSU campuses are consistently recognized for promoting sustainable practices, environmental research and green job preparation. Recently, 14 CSU campuses were named to the Sierra Club’s list of the “Coolest Schools of 2019” for receiving high marks for sustainable curriculum, food and waste reduction and energy efficiency.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) highlighted CSU campuses for innovative water conservation, sustainable buildings, waste management and sustainability practices in its 2019 Sustainable Campus Index​, counting Northridge, Chico and Sacramento​ among the 10 top-performing schools in the nation. 

​​​Awesome Alumni: Meet Four Green Entrepreneurs​

  • Don DiConstanzo and Terry Sherry (Cal State Fullerton class of '79/'80): co-founders of Pedego Electric Bikes to reduce greenhouse emissions

  • Matt Clifford and Nik Ingersoll (San Diego State class of '09/'12): co-founders of Barnana, organic snacks made from upcycled bananas

  • Sarah Akin (Cal State Long Beach class of '​01): founder and chief compliance officer of ZON Powersol, a solar-powered umbrella and USB charging station​

  • Amer Orabi (Cal State East Bay class of '15): chief operating officer for Pathwater, purified water in a refillable aluminum bottle 

The California State University is working hard to make our campuses greener and more efficient. The CSU Sustainability Report, released in 2018, examined the university’s progress against its 2014 sustainability goals, including building partnerships with communities and nonprofits to take action on global climate change; increasing opportunities for directed research; and adopting vital best practices to facilitate broader adoption. In 2020, the CSU continues to encourage greater integration of sustainability into curricular and research activities, procurement policies and electrical power generation for campuses and university-wide strategic goals. Learn more about each CSU campus’s commitment to sustainability.​​​​​