University of Chicago raises goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions

More aggressive target set for 2030 with UChicago ahead of schedule on 2025 goal

Editor’s note: On April 22, 2022, the University released greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan to meets its goal to reduce GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2030. The plan focuses on energy conservation measures in campus buildings, as well as renewable energy procurement and onsite renewable opportunities like solar panels and heat recovery chillers.

The University of Chicago is targeting deeper cuts in its greenhouse gas emissions, setting a goal of a 50% reduction across University operations by 2030.

Previously, the University planned on a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, and it is ahead of schedule to reach that target. The more ambitious goal is part of ongoing work across the University to address sustainability and confront pressing environmental challenges, while improving efficiency and conserving the University’s financial resources. The University’s efforts encompass research, education, student involvement, and campus operations and include University research institutes, Argonne National Laboratory and the Marine Biological Laboratory.

“The University of Chicago has taken a focused, data-driven approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, putting the University ahead of schedule to meet its 2025 goal. Given the early success, UChicago is prepared to take on more aggressive targets to advance the sustainability of University operations,” said Alicia Berg, assistant vice president of campus planning + sustainability with Facilities Services at UChicago. “We will also continue to look for ways to take these targets even further as technology and other mechanisms evolve.”

The University’s target is now based on overall emissions rather than based on emissions per square foot of building space. The University is also increasing access to data on energy use in campus operations to allow members of the UChicago community to provide ideas and input on how to advance sustainability efforts.

To meet the new greenhouse gas emissions goal, the University will focus on increasing the purchase of electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind, since emissions from electricity account for nearly half of total emissions from University operations. Wind power and other renewable sources of energy have become more affordable in recent years, and in some cases should allow for a decrease from current spending rates. Other areas of focus will include making new and existing buildings more energy efficient, increasing the University’s landfill diversion rate and reducing fleet vehicles’ gasoline use.

UChicago’s emissions already have decreased by approximately 11% compared to the starting point—defined as the average of emissions from 2012 through 2014. The reductions thus far have been driven by factors including better energy efficiency per square foot in campus buildings.

Berg said that continuing to work with partners across the University and its affiliates is critical to ongoing success. The University’s operating units plan to collaborate on new approaches to help achieve the greenhouse gas emissions goals.

In addition, faculty across disciplines are conducting research related to energy efficiency and conservation. For instance, faculty and researchers at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) produce data-driven research that advances society’s understanding of the global energy challenge and translates research insights with real-world impact.

The University also offers a wide range of educational programs focused on environmental sustainability as well as opportunities for students to get involved in sustainability efforts both on and off campus. For instance, the Program on the Global Environment offers the Environmental and Urban Studies major and minor to students in the College. This program provides undergraduates with a deeper theoretical understanding of urbanism and nature, as well as experience addressing urban and environmental challenges and opportunities for sustainable development. In addition, Environmental Frontiers is a new initiative that brings together students, faculty, and staff to pursue joint research and educational opportunities toward building a more sustainable future, with the goal of giving UChicago students a scientific and practical understanding of sustainable urban development.

Students can also earn credits by working on certain University sustainability projects, and Campus and Student Life is launching a “green fund” to which students can apply for financial support for their environmental sustainability research and projects.