Through My Cardinal Green, individuals across campus boost sustainability at Stanford

The data-driven program uses an online dashboard to provide solutions, suggestions and rewards for conservation efforts across campus.

To promote sustainable behavior on campus, My Cardinal Green encourages and rewards participation by individuals throughout the campus community and quantifies their impact.

My Cardinal Green recognizes participants’ contributions each year at a Celebrating Sustainability event. (Image credit: Stan Olszewski/SOSKIphoto)

The program’s pitch: “Get rewarded for small actions that can have big results!”

After 18 months, the results are substantial.

More than 3,700 people – about half students, half faculty and staff – have signed on as active users, meaning they completed a survey, signed onto a personal dashboard, and took and reported a sustainable activity.

Together, they have taken more than 14,000 specific conservation actions, resulting in a cumulative savings of $114,000 in estimated energy, water and other utility costs.

Suggested actions begin with Take A First Step options such as unplugging a computer before leaving for the weekend and reporting leaks in campus fixtures. More challenging options include purchasing nothing wrapped in plastic for a week or upgrading energy-intensive equipment.

The Office of Sustainability estimates that, as a result of program participation, the university saved nearly 630,000 kilowatt hours of electricity and avoided pumping more than 735,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Taken together, that’s the equivalent of taking 165 cars off the road for a year.

Participants conserved nearly 900,000 gallons of water. By completing sustainability actions suggested by the program, they diverted more than 125,000 pounds of waste that otherwise would have gone to the landfill.

“Sometimes it may seem hard to understand the impact that a single action can have,” said Lauren Hennessy, the outreach program manager for My Cardinal Green. “But there you have it – we are a real community of individuals working to effect change, with real, tangible results.”

Like other sustainability programs on campus, My Cardinal Green is data-driven. But it differs in its bottom-up approach, with an emphasis on actions by individual students, faculty and staff.

The 300 suggested actions fall into 10 categories: energy, water, waste, transportation, purchasing, food, information technology, building management, labs and educational events. Through the dashboard, each user can track progress and receive points for completed actions and redeem them for cash or other incentives.

“Sustainability is a cornerstone of the work that we do and something we think about with every major project we undertake,” said Fahmida Bangert, director of sustainability and business services. “Through My Cardinal Green, we are able to understand, support, connect and quantify the impact each individual is having, which is remarkable and a true sign of our program maturity.”

Celebrating sustainability

The Office of Sustainability recognized those efforts on Thursday, April 18, at a Celebrating Sustainability Champions reception at the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm. Guests were treated to a lunch catered by Residential & Dining Enterprises’ sustainable food program and picked up My Cardinal Green T-shirts.

Displays and slides provided highlights, such as the Green Cleaning Program that promotes chemical-free cleaners, which are as effective as traditional chemicals but without the environmental consequences, and Cardinal Green Labs programs that provide free aerator installations – saving about 190,000 gallons of water annually – and offer customized recycling bins to meet the needs of different lab spaces.

During a short program, three “champion” student participants described their experiences with My Cardinal Green. They included Lauren McLaughlin, a sophomore studying economics and Earth sciences, who said the program motivates others to help “create this sustainable community that we want to see.”

“As students, it’s really important to realize and to know the university is working hard to create this platform, this avenue for action,” McLaughlin said. “It’s this platform that is going to inspire small actions – like not eating meat for a week or taking five-minute showers, in order to get My Cardinal Green points – that are going to ultimately inspire other students or other staff members to take these same actions.”

My Cardinal Green builds on a range of academic programs and initiatives that have contributed to Stanford’s international reputation for solving major environmental and energy-related challenges. Laboratories, research centers and student organizations are working to solve urgent problems from food security and clean water to global warming and clean energy, and the university is on a path to become 80% carbon free by 2021 and has a goal of achieving zero waste by 2030.

Robert Reidy, vice president for land, buildings and real estate, said My Cardinal Green blends solutions developed through Stanford programs with the actions of individuals and organizations across campus.

“Through work over several decades, Stanford has great momentum and some powerful successes in our sustainability efforts. We are continuously improving and innovating, both the university as a whole and as individual members of our campus community,” Reidy said. “My Cardinal Green reflects our thriving culture of sustainability and our campus community’s firm and cherished commitment to our overall sustainability mission. It enables everyone to make a deep and quantifiable contribution, and I invite everyone to join the program.”