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On-Campus Sustainability Efforts

The previous section on Energy and Sustainable Design provided a detailed discussion of energy conservation measures related to green power and green construction projects that the CSU has undertaken to create a healthier and more sustainable environment. This section describes other measures that have been adopted by the campuses and students to help meet the CSU’s sustainability goals. The following examples highlight the diversity and creativity of CSU sustainability efforts but are by no means exhaustive.

Recycling/Waste Reduction

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported an average waste generation rate of 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day in 20011. Typical waste generated at a college campus includes paper, food scraps, plastics, metals and glass. CSU campuses have implemented a variety of measures to reduce waste at the source, recycle the waste generated and educate the campus community on the importance of adopting waste reduction measures.

For example, a cooperative effort between CSU Northridge Associated Students and the university administration led to the establishment of a recycling program. As part of this program, students support a campaign that educates the campus community on the importance of recycling paper, cardboard, glass, plastic bottles, ink cartridges and cell phones. San Francisco State University is working hand in hand with the City of San Francisco to achieve the city’s goal of zero waste by 2050. In 2008, San Francisco State’s on-campus recycling efforts diverted more than 76 percent of waste from landfills.

  • CSU San Marcos was the 2010 Grand Champion of the RecycleMania contest, for the sixth consecutive win. They had a recycling rate of 72 percent and beat more than 600 other colleges and universities.

  • Cal Poly Pomona recycles about 3,500 tons of waste annually—about 300 pounds for every person on campus. In 2009, the Los Angeles Regional Agency presented the university with the Excellence in Environmental Practices Award for its sustainability efforts, which are not limited to recycling cans and bottles but also include the use of biodiesel fuel in landscaping equipment, a street sweeper, and a campus shuttle. The Cal Poly Pomona Broncos in all sports collect and recycle bottles, cans, and plastics in order to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and assist in keeping their environment green.

  • CSU Channel Islands has achieved more than 65 percent waste diversion from landfills through recycling and reuse efforts.

  • Through a redesign of its Central Plant, CSU Los Angeles has prevented the creation of more than 1,300 metric tons of greenhouse gases.

  • During the Electronic Waste Recycling event held by the CSU Bakersfield Office of Safety and Risk Management in January 2008, more than 99,000 pounds of recyclables from business, commercial interests, and residents were collected and sold to a recycler. The proceeds were used to enhance environmental sustainability efforts and other CSU Bakersfield programs.

Water Conservation

Water is undoubtedly a precious resource, especially in California. The governor of California has called for Californians to reduce their per capita water consumption by 20 percent by the year 20202. To help meet this consumption reduction goal and considering the undeniably urgent need to conserve water, the CSU system and its campuses have been implementing measures to conserve water and reduce consumption.

At the system level, the CSU has developed the Water Resources and Policy Initiatives to address the complex water issues facing California, primarily focused on sustainable water resource management. The goals of the initiatives include: partnerships with the water industry and government agencies; education, training and professional capacity building; and technology and economic development.

At the campus level, several initiatives have been developed. For instance, San Luis Obispo retrofitted over 700 plumbing fixtures with low-flow fixtures, waterless fixtures, and touch-free sensors. This retrofit reduced total campus potable water consumption by 15 percent, each year saving over 29 million gallons, enough for 165 California homes, and avoiding $240,000 in water and sewer charges. San Diego State University has installed a Central Control Irrigation System and CSU Dominguez Hills installed a wireless Weather Sensor Irrigation Control System, which enables the campuses to conserve water, reduce runoff, and maintain plant health while saving money.

Alternative Transportation

Alternative transportation such as buses and subways reduces carbon dioxide emissions, saves time and money, and avoids the stress of navigating traffic. It is also an area of the California economy where employment has grown 152 percent since 1995. The CSU has undertaken initiatives on its campuses to provide its students and faculty with alternative transportation, which not only saves money, but also benefits the community and the environment.

For example, U-PASS, a partnership between CSU Long Beach and Long Beach Transit (LBT), allows students, faculty, and staff unlimited free ride privileges on all LBT buses and Passport shuttles with the swipe of their university ID cards through bus fare boxes. The program was initiated in response to rising gasoline prices and campus parking congestion. Before the U-PASS program was launched, LBT reported that campus-related boardings averaged 1,400 per day, but since implementation have averaged 3,200 per day, sometimes surpassing 4,000. It is estimated that changing a 10-mile commute from car to bus just twice a week for one year reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 876 pounds, saving 45 gallons of gasoline. A similar partnership between CSU Fullerton and the Orange County Transportation Authority has been in operation since 2003.

Sonoma State University was recognized among the top environmental campuses by Princeton Review’s new Green rating in 2008 for 15 percent of students’ trips using alternative transportation such as bicycles, which saves money, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and protects the environment.

Sonoma State University was recognized among the top environmental campuses by Princeton Review's new Green rating in 2008 for 15 percent of students' trips using alternative transportation such as bicycles, which saves money, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and protects the environment.

Local Food Options

The CSU campuses have made a conscious effort to facilitate local and organic food offerings at dining halls, reducing the transportation impact that would otherwise be incurred. For example, Humboldt State connected with the Humboldt County chapter of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) four years ago to increase its local food options. Through its partnership with CAFF, Humboldt State is able to offer local, organic, and sustainable food to its students, which during the growing season is between 50 and 100 percent of the produce offered.

The CSU Chico Organic Vegetable Project has staked out a section of the University Farm and grows fruits and vegetables for the Associated Students (A.S.) Dining Services. The A.S. Dining Services incorporates all of the projects' produce into its program. In addition, CSU Chico’s College of Agriculture has the only university-based organic dairy in the western United States.

Student-led Initiatives

Expanding their learning experience at the CSU beyond the classroom, CSU students have actively engaged in on-campus collaborative efforts with their colleagues and faculty, and have reached out to their local community to not only increase awareness about environmental responsibility, but also to apply their acquired knowledge. The examples below illustrate the commitment of CSU students to becoming environmentally responsible leaders of tomorrow.

  • The Humboldt Energy Independence Fund Committee awarded its first $68,000 in grants in 2008 for three student grant proposals focused on energy independence for the Humboldt State campus. The grants funded a retrofit of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system (HVAC) in two of the Science Complex buildings, installations of two solar thermal panels for the rooftop of the student-run eco-demonstration house called the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT), and the hiring of a two-year student energy intern. The financial benefits from avoided energy costs from HVAC retrofits alone are estimated to be at least $390,000 over a 20-year period.

  • CSU Chico has a dedicated team of engineering students working to build an automated biodiesel processor. In 2007, 22 engineering students from Chico won the grand prize at the Western Tool Exposition and Conference (WESTEC) for creating and presenting the processor that turns animal fats and vegetable oils into fuel. Current Chico students are working on a more sophisticated version of a biodiesel processor that can run automatically. The plan for the finished product is to use it to fuel a tractor at the University Farm that provides tours to grade school students and other visitors.

  • In 2000, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Terry Hooker initiated a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at the university. The CSA has grown from its initial membership of 25 to its current 300. Through the CSA, farmers sell “shares” in the farm to community members who are then entitled to a portion of the harvest distributed in weekly allotments over a pre-determined period of time. Memberships sold prior to the start of the harvest period provide up-front capital to the farmer and members benefit by receiving fresh produce in times of full production.

In 2007, the American Society of Landscape Architects awarded seven Cal Poly Pomona graduates the Award of Excellence in Community Service, which is the highest honor the society gives to college students. This award recognized the students' hard work in designing and building a native garden at Lassalette Middle School in La Puente.

Community Education and Action

Community involvement and education on environmental issues has allowed the CSU to not only extend its teaching beyond the campus but also to participate in the improvement and conservation of California’s environment on a local and regional level. The following are some examples of community outreach and environmental education initiatives by CSU campuses across the state.

  • Humboldt State University hosted the Sustainability Leadership Drive in February 2009 that involved about 250 high school students from the San Francisco Bay area, the Sacramento Valley, and north to the Redwood Coast. The theme of the forum was “Focus on Sustainability: Recycling, Conserving, Reducing, and Rethinking.” The goal of the conference was to train “Nor-Cal Generation Y” students in leadership skills, activism, and community involvement and to help them think critically and find solutions to advance greater environmental consciousness.

  • In 2009, San Diego State launched the Center for Regional Sustainability to further sustainability on campus through academic engagement programs, faculty training, research, and community outreach. The center’s initiatives include a faculty institute for course design and a service learning project/community engagement project "Public Conversations for a Sustainable Future," which engages students and faculty in intergenerational, community discussions.

  • Cal Poly Pomona’s AGRIscapes, which is located on 40 acres, integrates and showcases farming and urban landscaping practices that are sustainable, environmentally beneficial, economically viable and technologically sound. It promotes agricultural and environmental literacy through research, education and demonstrations of alternative methods to grow food, conserve water, reduce energy needs, and recycle agricultural and urban waste. Through the College of Agriculture and community partners, AGRIscapes hosts formal college courses, workshops, community events and training sessions.

  • San Francisco State University’s Industrial Assessment Center provides small- and medium-sized manufacturers with free assessments of their plant's energy, waste and productivity efficiency, and offers recommendations for improvements. The center has served more than 340 manufacturers in northern and central California since 1992. The U.S. Department of Energy funds the program in an effort to transfer new, efficient, environmentally sound technologies to industry. The San Francisco State center is one of only 26 in the United States.

  • The Fullerton Arboretum, a 26-acre preserve on the CSU Fullerton campus operated through an agreement with the City of Fullerton, serves the community as a resource for ecological, horticultural and historical education. The arboretum features low-water sections of drought-tolerant plants and offers classes for the public on low-water gardening.


1   U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2010. Region 7 Solid Waste. Online at http://www.epa.gov/region07/waste/solidwaste/ (accessed February 22, 2010).

2   Department of Water Resources. 2008. Drought 2008. Online at http://www.water.ca.gov/drought/docs/2009drought_actions.pdf (accessed February 23, 2010)