Sustainability is part of our institutional DNA. A founding director of UC San Diego and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Dr. Roger Revelle first made his mark in oceanography as a scientist, explorer, and administrator. He went on to become a senior senator of science, giving counsel and guidance in areas ranging from the environment and education to agriculture and world population. He was one of the first scientists to recognize the dangerous global warming effects of rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Also a Scripps scientist, Dr. Charles Keeling was a world leader in research on the carbon cycle and the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, known as the greenhouse effect, which may lead to changes in the global climate. He was the first to confirm the accumulation of atmospheric CO2 by very precise measurements that produced a data set now known widely as the Keeling Curve. Prior to these investigations, it was commonly held that the oceans would readily absorb any excess CO2 from the atmosphere produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial activities. He also constructed a model of the carbon cycle into which future man-made CO2 can be introduced to predict concentration levels in the air and water well into the next century. Today, UC San Diego is a living laboratory of sustainable solutions that benefits students as well as our city, region, state and global community. We have been recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Partnership Program, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, California Higher Education and Sustainability Consortium, Princeton Review, Sierra Club, International Sustainable Purchasing Council, and others for our sustainability leadership.

UC San Diego’s sustainability goals include but are not limited to:

  • Zero waste by 2020

  • Carbon neutrality (emitting net zero greenhouse gases) from our buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025 and from all sources by 2050.

  • 36% potable water use reduction by 2030, meeting stricter regulations that those mandated by CA Governor Jerry Brown

  • 20% sustainable food purchasing in dining halls (i.e. Fair Trade, USDA Organic, locally and regionally grown, Marine Stewardship Council Certified, etc.) by 2020

  • Food security for the campus community, especially students, by 2025

  • LEED Silver or better certification for all new buildings and major renovations

Students learn about sustainability through hundreds of courses across campus and majors and minors including Environmental Systems, Urban Studies & Planning, Environmental Engineering and Marine Science. Co-curricular learning includes sustainability internships and fellowships, student organizations and outreach campaigns, and sustainability study abroad experiences. Faculty are engaged through climate curriculum development workshops, research grants and collaboration opportunities with staff and corporate partners to pilot and test renewable and green technologies in campus operations, and engaged scholarship in climate science and solutions across the globe. For example, in October 2015 UC San Diego hosted the the UC Carbon and Climate Neutrality Summit with California Governor Gerry Brown in attendance. Our Vice Chancellor for Research and a distinguished Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate scientist lead over 50 faculty and staff from the across the UC system in authoring “Bending the Curve,” a report detailing 10 scalable solutions for moving the world towards carbon neutrality and a practical framework that outlines both immediate and longer-term actions for staving off catastrophic climate change. Finally, our sustainable operation successes include:

  • 21 LEED certified buildings and 20 more in progress (LEED Silver or better)

  • $100M in energy retrofits by 2015, offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all new construction since 2000 and saving over $8M/year

  • 2.36 MW of photovoltaics across campus

  • One of the world’s largest microgrids that includes a 2.8 MW Fuel Cell powered with directed biogas from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant and a 2.5MW Advanced Energy Storage System

  • More than 50% of campus fleet vehicles are hybrid or alternative-fuel

  • 20% of food purchases made by UCSD Dining are sustainable: i.e. Fair Trade, USDA Organic, local/regional, MSC Certified, etc.

  • By 2016 we will have exceeded the CA Governor’s water conservation mandate by reducing our potable water consumption on the La Jolla campus by 20%

  • Much more

What is sustainability?

The "Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future," otherwise known as the Bruntlund Commission, defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Sustainable development as an idea has been critiqued and analyzed since post-World War II, and today we call it sustainability. At its heart, sustainability is transformational thinking and action that promote environmental, economic, and social/cultural health and resilience long term. It is: 

  • Local and global
  • Individual and communal
  • Humans within nature (economy and environment)
  • Celebrational of our human diversity and our shared humanity
  • Theoretical and practical
  • Cost effective and inclusive of true environmental and social costs

sustainability diagram

*Diagram from McKinstry, S. and Sheehan, C. (2014).

What role does the UCSD Sustainability department play in making sustainability happen on and off campus?

We serve as a hub for all things related to sustainability on campus. Specifically, we:

Connect & Collaborate

  • Coordinate and/or contribute to sustainability efforts across curriculum, operations, research and engagement.
  • Facilitate partnerships, teams, committees and other collaborations across disciplines and departments to support administrators, faculty, staff and students in making UCSD a leader in sustainability.
  • Bring administrators, faculty, staff and students engaged in sustainability across campus together to strengthen, celebrate and expand their reach and effectiveness.
  • Foster a culture of sustainability across and beyond campus.


  • Serve as a primary point of contact for UCSD sustainability goals and initiatives.
  • Track and report campus-wide progress in how UCSD is meeting its sustainability goals.
  • Collaborate on communications and marketing around UCSD sustainability leadership and initiatives. 

Chart a Course for the Future

  • Stay abreast of and share thought leadership and best practices in sustainability with the campus community.
  • Partner with administrators, faculty, staff, students, other UC campuses and the UC Office of the President to envision where UC San Diego’s sustainability leadership – from scholarship to “living lab of sustainability” operational efforts to student learning to community engagement – could go next.
  • Participate in the statewide, national and international dialogue on sustainability in higher education through publishing, presentations, and involvement in organizations like the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and others.

Learn more about UCSD sustainability

UC sustainability