UC Santa Cruz ranked No. 3 green college 

Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green College List evaluates schools based on their policies, practices, and programs

The Center for Agroecology serves as a resource for students interested in a variety of topics, including agroecology, urban agriculture, domestic and international food systems, sustainable agriculture, agricultural policy, landscape ecology, and food security. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Princeton Review has ranked UC Santa Cruz as the No. 3 green college in the nation, a testament to the campus’s longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. 

“When it comes to sustainability, it takes every member of the UC Santa Cruz community to make an achievement like this possible. Banana slugs—take a moment to give yourselves a pat on the back!” said Elida Erickson, director of the Sustainability Office. “We can combat the impacts of climate change by building upon our prior achievements to tackle more challenging issues.”

Princeton Review evaluates schools based on institutional data as well as a 10-question student survey that focuses on whether students have a quality of life that is healthy and sustainable; how well a school prepares students for jobs in a green economy, and whether the school’s policies are environmentally responsible. Nearly 840 schools were reviewed for the 12th annual Green Colleges list. 

Guided by its current Campus Sustainability Plan, UC Santa Cruz is advancing its green practices by focusing on four areas: Learning & Culture; Materials Management & Food Systems; Natural Environment & Infrastructure; and Climate & Energy. Each area includes specific goals, strategies, and actions to help move the campus forward. 

UC Santa Cruz made major advances toward meeting the systemwide 2025 carbon neutrality goal this year with the completion of a two-megawatt solar parking canopy at the East Remote Parking Lot. The array is increasing the campus’s use of renewable energy while reducing its energy bill. It will generate enough energy to meet about 6% of the total campus electrical load.

The Campus Sustainability Plan calls on UC Santa Cruz to develop a plan to add four megawatts of solar photovoltaic to the campus and the new solar array gets the campus halfway to that goal. The Office of Physical Planning, Development and Operations is currently assessing the opportunities for solar at UCSC’s Westside Research Park and Monterey Bay Education Science and Technology (MBEST) Center. 

The campus also continued to make strides in its efforts to use alternative transportation methods and support the use of electric vehicles in 2020. Almost half of UCSC employees use alternative community methods to get to work. 

Strengthening an inclusive culture of sustainability

The Learning & Culture section of the Campus Sustainability Plan in 2017 was the first of its kind in the UC system to start addressing the intersections of diversity, sustainability, and student success with goals to advance “Inclusive Sustainability,” a concept co-authored by People of Color Sustainability Collective (PoCSC), a collaboration of the Ethnic Resource Centers, Sustainability Office, and Colleges Nine and Ten (soon to be John R. Lewis College).

The multiple award-winning PoCSC was most recently recognized as a finalist for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Racial Equity & Sustainability Collaborations award. UCSC is also featured in AASHE’s 2021  "No Sustainability Without Justice" essay series.

The UC Santa Cruz faculty, staff, and students also have many opportunities to broaden their understanding of sustainability and its intersections with social justice. 

Rachel Carson College is the home of a minor in Sustainability Studies, designed for students who want to work in the sustainability field, pursue green entrepreneurships and startups, and become agents of the change needed to protect the environment in an equitable and effective way. The minor is highly interdisciplinary, and open to all UCSC students.

The Sustainability Certificate Program, created by the Office of Sustainability, allows faculty, staff, and graduate students to examine sustainability through multiple lenses and develop knowledge and strategies for building a more inclusive and sustainable campus. To earn the certificate, participants must complete the five core courses and one elective within two academic years. More than 100 people have earned their certificate since the program launched in 2018. 

Planning for a resilient future

The 2017-22 Campus Sustainability Plan will be updated by 2023, offering the campus new opportunities to raise the bar for sustainability. In the meantime, the campus will focus on developing non-potable water sources, continuing to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint, and building operational resilience in the face of the new climate realities our community is facing.