Stanford continues working toward a more sustainable and resilient future

In an annual report, Stanford’s Office of Sustainability highlights the ways the university reduced its collective resource footprint and demonstrated sustainability in action in 2019-20, and discusses the key themes that will guide campus sustainability efforts this year.

When Fahmida Bangert, director of Stanford’s Office of Sustainability, looks back at 2019-20, she sees an academic year in which the university community continued working toward a more sustainable future with vigor and determination, even in the face of a global pandemic.

In an annual report, Stanford’s Office of Sustainability highlights the ways the university reduced its collective resource footprint and demonstrated sustainability in action in 2019-20. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

“The progress we made in this exceptional year in sustainability, climate action, resources management and community solutions are a testament to the resilience of our community,” she said, during a recent interview about Stanford’s annual sustainability report.

The report, which was released in early September, highlights the ways Stanford reduced its collective resource footprint and demonstrated sustainability in action last year.

It provides a look at sustainability efforts spanning every aspect of campus life: research and academia; programs in evaluation, conservation and engagement; a carbon-free and resilient energy supply; energy management solutions; water resources stewardship; waste diversion; living and dining; buildings and transportation.

The report also highlights sustainability initiatives Stanford will pursue this year, including a program to replace natural gas equipment in buildings with electric alternatives.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell open the report, stating:

“Stanford is a living lab of sustainability – in research, teaching, campus action, student experience and community. Across the university, we have made great strides and are committed to accelerating our work to deepen our impact and service. Our research identifies challenges and helps develop critical solutions that can have a lasting impact on campus and around the world.”

The full report, Sustainability at Stanford: 2019-20 Year in Review, is available here.

School of climate and sustainability

At the annual Academic Council meeting, held in May 2020, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced a school focused on climate and sustainability. The idea for the school arose out of a faculty-led process, first as part of a Long-Range Vision design team focused on climate and sustainability, and later through a committee tasked with proposing organizational structures to support the design team’s sweeping vision.

The school focused on climate and sustainability will become the campus hub for sustainability education and research. It will be designed to accelerate Stanford’s impact on the urgent environmental challenges facing our planet now and in the future.

Carbon emissions and resilience, zero waste

At the Academic Council meeting, Tessier-Lavigne also announced Stanford would achieve its goal of reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent – another goal of the Long-Range Vision – four years ahead of schedule in 2021.

To improve the resilience of the system, in the past year Stanford installed temporary equipment to expand the cooling capacity of the Central Energy Facility to minimize the risk of chilled water curtailment during extreme heat events. This year, Stanford installed additional temporary cooling equipment that nearly doubles the system’s capacity, in advance of permanent chillers and cooling towers coming online at the facility by June 2022.

In another highlight related to the Long-Range Vision, the sustainability report says Stanford is on track to achieve zero waste by 2030, meaning that the university will divert 90 percent of all campus waste through recycling and composting in a decade. Currently, Stanford diverts 66 percent of campus waste from landfills through waste reduction, reuse, recycling and compost programs.

New homes for graduate students

The Sustainability at Stanford report also celebrates the opening of the Escondido Village Graduate Residences, which was designed to house 2,400 students.

The four 10-story buildings, a project of Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE), each have a four-stream waste chute to promote waste sorting, and students received free composting buckets, with compostable bags provided year-round.

Interesting trends

The report says the Office of Sustainability and Business Services, which oversees campus sustainability programs, contributed to Stanford’s COVID-19 campus emergency response efforts while remaining vigilant on the links between the pandemic response and utility resource use on campus. Since the shelter-in-place order began in March 2020, the office has collected monthly data to understand the impact of largely virtual operations on-campus resource consumption. The data revealed reductions across categories tied to individual behavior, such as waste, commute and air travel.

The campus community remained committed to sustainability action despite a tumultuous year. In 2019-20, people who participated in the My Cardinal Green program completed an average of 1,400 more actions per month compared with the previous year. With the vast majority of the Stanford community learning, teaching and working from home, the program’s website includes 30 recommendations to support sustainability at home.

“In producing Sustainability at Stanford, it became apparent how deeply committed we are in the Stanford community to upholding sustainability as a core value,” Bangert said.

“Working from home or on campus, people working in more than 35 departments contributed content to the report. Inspired by our community and realities of the recent crises, we expect another dynamic year of progress and ingenuity towards sustainability and resource management.”