In June 2004, the University of California integrated a sustainability policy across its campuses in light of student activism. The policy began with the integration of green buildings and clean energy and has since developed to include eight other sections.
These sections include sustainable climate action, transportation, food, waste management and purchasing practices. Matthew St. Clair, the sustainability manager for the UC, said the UC is in the process of adding a ninth section regarding a sustainable water system.
“It took the drive and leadership from student activists combined with a receptive university leadership that was open to collaborating with students to develop forward thinking and ambitious goals together,” St. Clair said. “The students demanded it because they’re probably learning in the classrooms about all of the sustainability-related problems and looking around their campus wondering why the same environmentally destructive practices are being used on their own campuses.”
The UC Sustainable Practices Policy states that the UC pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emission to 1990 levels, purchase at least 20 percent of its food and beverages from sustainable sources and achieve zero waste by 2020. In addition, all new buildings and renovations with budgets over $5 million must achieve LEED certification.
According to St. Clair, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It has a four-tiered rating system and five categories of general environmental impacts of buildings. Currently, the UC system has seven platinum-certified buildings — the highest LEED certification.
St. Clair said UC Davis has three of the seven platinum-certified buildings.
In addition to green buildings, UC campuses – and UC Davis itself – are actively participating in offering sustainable food options to their students.
Danielle Lee, sustainability manager for the UC Davis Dining Services, said the university is working hard at sourcing more local and sustainable food. It began developing its sustainable food program in 2006.
“Here at UC Davis, we define locally grown as grown within 250 miles of campus, with the emphasis of sourcing as close to campus as possible,” Lee said. “For the resident dining programs – Segundo, Tercero and Cuarto – and the convenient stores attached onto those, of all the money we spend on food each year which is just over $5 million, 21 percent of that food is coming from sustainable sources and that is based on the criteria outlined by the UC policy.”
As an employee of Sodexo, a food provider that serves college campuses across the United States, Lee said the company was involved in creating the policy that the entire UC system is using to guide their sustainability initiatives within campus dining operations.
“A lot of the more sustainable and local, humane products tend to have a premium associated to them, so we’ve been working on budgeting for increasing the amount of local and sustainable food products on our menus,” Lee said. “We also do a lot of education as to why we should learn where our food’s coming from and why these foods may cost more.”
According to Lee, switching to 100 percent local, sustainable food is difficult because there is still a demand for unsustainable food.
“If our students want unsustainable food products, or products that don’t meet criteria that’s listed in the UC policy for sustainable food, we still want to make sure our students are happy,” she said.
Lee said it’s critical to buy locally to support the local economy, growers and the community. She said there are a lot of resources that go into creating and packaging the food, so if the resources are not renewable, it will be hard to sustain food consumption.
The Real Food Challenge, a student organization that challenges schools to shift to more sustainable and equitable food systems, has had an impact on the UC sustainability policy. David Schwartz, the campaign director for the Real Food Challenge, said the UC’s policy is an inspiration to other students pushing for similar policies.
“To date, including the commitments the UC system made, students have won about $50 million in commitment in support for sustainable food systems,” Schwartz said. “One of the hugest drivers of our climate problems is an outdated food system.”
Schwartz said he understands that not everyone has the resources or access to locally grown food. He said the important thing is to become politically active and to make sure food justice is something everyone can access.
“Schools are becoming more transparent as to where their food is coming from,” Schwartz said.
Sid England, assistant vice chancellor for environmental stewardship and sustainability, said UC Davis is making good progress in achieving sustainability by reducing its carbon footprint to what it was in 2000.
“So even before the system and before other campuses, we’ve had a [sustainability] policy here at Davis to try to do better,” England said. “We’ve tried to stay ahead of the UC.”
CLAIRE TAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.