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Northwestern University

Built Environment

Our vision is to improve the built environment at Northwestern so that we lessen our harm to the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Our interim goal is to reduce campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent from our 2005 baseline of 156,550 metric tons of CO2 by 2016. Facilities Management (FM) recently assessed the emissions from NU's two utility plants in Evanston and Chicago, which burn natural gas to heat and cool our facilities, and from the purchased electricity supplying the two campuses. We are also in the process of assessing the emissions from our commuting students, faculty, and staff so the University can continue to facilitate programs that support the use of clean and efficient methods of transit like cycling, rail, and bus transit.

Here are a few of the ways we aim to reduce our GHG emissions:

Alternative Energy

Northwestern has made a significant investment in clean, greenhouse gas-free energy through the purchase of Green-E certified Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), offsetting 50 percent of our purchased electricity totaling 122,000 megawatt-hours (kWh). The University also supported the installation of a 16.8 kilowatt solar array in partnership with Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) to feed clean energy to our Ford Engineering labs. Learn more about these initiatives on the Renewable Energy page.

Energy Efficiency

Northwestern has made significant investments in improving the efficiency of its buildings and central utility plants. Northwestern has committed over $40 million as a part of the Northwestern Energy Retrofit Fund (NERF) to energy conservation projects across our two campuses. This commitment to energy efficiency has decreased the amount of electricity purchased from the grid by almost five percent, even as our square footage of occupied space has increased. This commitment to energy efficiency has resulted in a reduction in our natural gas usage and lowered our GHG emissions by more than 58,000 tons a year. 


The Evanston and Chicago campuses span 265 acres. We aim to keep our campuses, including Lake Michigan, as healthy as possible.

Preserving Campus Green Space

Since its founding, Northwestern University has preserved and maintained natural green space in the campus landscape. Today, we work to preserve these natural spaces by:

Limiting Impact on Lake Michigan

Our proximity to Lake Michigan is one of our campuses greatest assets. Our goal is to limit any impact we may have on this important body of water. This includes:


Northwestern uses 423 million gallons of water every year. That’s enough to fill nearly 641 Olympic sized swimming pools. Northwestern is working to reduce its campus water usage by at least 25 percent compared to a 2005 baseline, as well as limit its impact on Lake Michigan and beyond.

Here is how we work to achieve these goals:

Water Efficiency

We aim to create infrastructure to lessen water waste. We’ve installed the following water-saving equipment on campus:

We closely monitor water use across campus, and any abnormalities are quickly investigated and remedied.


We have installed a myriad of technologies such as solar clocks, rain gauges, and moisture sensors that calculate air moisture to determine when it will rain to avoid wasting water, time, and energy. We diligently follow the City of Evanston’s irrigation restrictions on weekdays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm from May 15 to September 15. This restriction is in effect because plants do not absorb water efficiently, so the water evaporates and is wasted.

Stormwater Management

As our campus is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, we're dedicated to doing our part to keep it clean and healthy. We focus particularly on stormwater collection and management to prevent harmful run-off. The use of synthetic fertilizer is kept to a minimum, and we frequently test soil and custom blend fertilizer that provides only the lacking nutrients. Conserving water and reducing storm runoff is another priority at Northwestern.

Water is recycled in creative ways through bioswales, green roofs, and daisy basins. Bioswales are landscaping mechanisms that use terracing to naturally draw water to specific locations. Northwestern has bioswales near the athletic fields and parking lots to move water to plants that need it. Green roofs, which minimize stormwater runoff, are found at the Wild Roots Garden on the Norris University Center South Lawn and at the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center. Daisy basins are fixtures unique to Northwestern that divert stormwater runoff. Though most of them are underground, some older daisy basins are visible above ground near Norris University Center.

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