What sustainability looks like at UC Berkeley

Photo of Berkeley student farms
Moe Sumino/Courtesy

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It’s easy to see that the students of UC Berkeley strive to be sustainable while walking around campus: The various sustainability clubs tabling on Sproul Plaza and the conscientious students sorting their waste make this obvious. At the same time, what may not be apparent to the eye is an institutional backing of sustainable practices that happens behind the scenes. To understand the many ways in which sustainability is supported by the university, here are various resources and reports created by UC Berkeley and outside organizations that provide a more holistic view of sustainability here on campus. 

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System

STARS is a comprehensive sustainability rating system for universities that accounts for environmental, social and economic dimensions. This multifaceted rating system is broken down into several categories: academics, engagement, operations and planning and administration. With further subcategories, the STARS report is an excellent resource to intimately understand the achievements and shortcomings of UC Berkeley. For example, the campus engagement category received 19.42 out of a 21 point total for UC Berkeley’s excellent student culture. On the other hand, the energy category received 2.97 out of a 10 point total for failing to adequately source renewable energy as only 1.90% of our total energy needs are from sustainable sources. Overall, the STARS rating of 85.39 points places UC Berkeley as the seventh-highest out of about 700 rated universities.

UC Berkeley Sustainability Plan

The UC Berkeley Sustainability and Carbon Solutions is another excellent resource to dig deeper into the particular sustainability initiatives and programs here on campus. The Office of Sustainability recently compiled UC Berkeley’s particular goals and strategies in the 2020 Campus Sustainability Plan. The plan is structured around five focus sections that address both traditional and intersectional topics: climate and resilience; culture and learning; built and natural environment; health and sustainability; and sustainable services. Each focus topic provides a thorough assessment with actionable goals for tackling complex sustainability issues. This sustainability report can be read in conjunction with the STARS report to help contextualize the very programs which drive our success. But, for a shorter read, the accompanying vision statements for each focus topic are a great way to understand the overarching goals of sustainability and its future here on campus.

Sustainability Curriculum & the UN Sustainable Development Goals

There are also many ways in which students directly benefit from the university’s focus on sustainability. From campus outreach programs to sustainable investment funds, UC Berkeley considers the many ways in which its focus on sustainability can directly impact students. In particular, the Sustainability Curriculum is a course mapping in relation to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In this report, the UC Berkeley full course listing of 6,854 courses is narrowed down to 2,079 courses and linked to its applicable sustainable development goal. For example, 18.5% of these selected classes are linked to the Peace and Justice sustainable development goal. The linked spreadsheet within the report can be used to access the mapping of these courses and as a useful guide for honing in on a particular class that may be of interest. 

Without a doubt, UC Berkeley is certainly at the forefront of the environmental movement as an institution and as a collection of students. Whether it be ground-breaking research or environmental protests on Sproul, there is an undeniable commitment to sustainability that is reflected in these reports and ratings.

Contact Adrian Fontao at [email protected].