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Year in Review Report Shows Progress Toward a More Sustainable Northwestern

Northwestern’s 2016–2017 Year in Review Sustainability Report, published this week, highlights the results of an engaged campus community dedicated to reducing the University’s environmental impact. The report covers milestones and accomplishments from the 2016 to 2017 academic year.

Accomplishments include earning a Silver ranking for sustainability through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education STARS program. Northwestern was rated 31 out of 227 schools in the Sierra Club Cool Schools rankings, and received 96 out of 99 points in the Princeton Review Sustainability Green Rating. The University was also listed as number nine out of the top 30 college and university partners in the Green Power Challenge.

In addition to these accomplishments, Northwestern made substantial progress in sustainNU’s program areas: the built environment, transportation, resource conservation, experiential learning, and communications and engagement.

Built Environment

Northwestern is committed to improving its built environment in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the University’s environmental impact.

Energy use intensity (EUI) on campus was reduced 11 percent from a 2010 baseline by the fiscal year 2017, and total greenhouse gas emissions during 2016 were down 13 percent compared with a 2012 baseline.

To offset the impacts of energy use on campus, Northwestern purchased 100,000 MWh of Green-e certified Midwest wind renewable energy certificates. The University also invested in renewable energy by installing new inverters to the 17kW solar array located on the roof of the Ford Engineering Design Center. This upgrade will improve the performance of the 75-panel array.

The University continued to demonstrate its commitment to creating a greener campus with the renovation of Kresge Centennial Hall, which received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The grounds on campus are getting greener as well as the buildings. Staff planted 68 new trees on the Evanston campus, and used 50 percent organic based fertilizers to maintain campus landscaping.

Northwestern continues to participate in national efforts to promote energy efficiency and greener buildings as an ENERGY STAR® partner and a participant in the U.S. Department of Energy, Better Buildings Challenge.


Northwestern made some impressive strides forward in the area of sustainable transportation over the past year.

Progress included adding 16 electric vehicles to the University fleet. The vehicles replace older, larger gas vehicles, saving nearly 12,800 gallons of gas annually.

The University also moved forward with efforts to promote cycling as a healthy and environmentally friendly form of transportation. A purple Northwestern branded bike was introduced to the Divvy fleet as part of the University’s ongoing partnership with Divvy bike sharing. This “purple unicorn” bike made its rounds from Evanston all the way to Hyde Park. Meanwhile, Northwestern student Divvy memberships have been steadily rising since the bike-sharing program was introduced on campus in July 2016, reaching 667 memberships at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year.

Northwestern once again took first place in its category in the Bike Commuter Challenge, an annual competition between Chicago-area universities, businesses, and nonprofits. Northwestern cyclists logged a total of 8,295 miles, a 2,000-mile increase from the previous year.

To further support campus cyclists, three new bike repair stations were installed on the Chicago campus. Each provides a pump for inflating tires and tools for making minor repairs. Throughout the year, sustainNU and University Police held several events where cyclists could stop by to register their bikes, and University Police offered free bike lights and helmets to those who registered.

Thanks to these and other efforts, Northwestern was recognized as a "Bicycle Friendly University" at the Silver Award level through the Bicycle Friendly University program run by the League of American Bicyclists. This award compliments the City of Evanston's Bike Friendly Community Silver Award.

Finally, in November 2016, the sustainNU program and Institutional Research Office issued the University's first Transportation Survey to gather information about the commuting habits of students, faculty, and staff. This survey had an excellent response rate and gathered data from 6,688 students, faculty, and staff. Going forward, the University will use the information collected to develop effective strategies for improving the transportation options available to the community while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

Resource Conservation

Over the course of the year, Northwestern made an enormous amount of progress in understanding and managing resource consumption and waste on campus.

The recycling rate has been steadily improving on campus. During the 2016-2017 academic year, 38 percent of waste was diverted from landfills, representing 2,625 tons of recycled or composted materials. The sustainNU staff supported nine zero-waste events during the year. During move out, staff collected nearly 10,000 pounds of food, clothing, and household items for donation to charity.

To encourage the use of reusable water bottles, 75 new hydration stations were installed on campus, making it easy to refill reusable water bottles with filtered drinking water. Dining facilities on campus cut waste by collecting waste vegetable oil for recycling. Nearly 2,000 gallons of waste vegetable oil were recycled to create nearly 1,680 gallons of biodiesel fuel, which avoided more than 31,660 pounds of CO2 emissions. This is equivalent to the CO2 emissions avoided by switching 481 incandescent light bulbs to LEDs.

To further waste reduction efforts, the University conducted its first-ever waste audit, which involved sorting more than 9,000 pounds of waste from 19 buildings across both campuses. The survey identified what was in the waste stream and how much of the waste could have been avoided, recycled, or composted. Staff members will use the results to develop a strategic approach to reducing waste and increasing recycling and composting rates going forward.

Northwestern is also moving toward a more sustainable food supply. The University increased “real food” purchases from 2 to 5.5 percent toward a goal of 20 percent real food by 2020. Real food is defined as food that is produced through means that are fair, humane, and environmentally sound.

These efforts move Northwestern forward toward the vision of adopting a comprehensive, sustainable approach to conserving resources and reducing and managing waste.

Experiential Learning

Northwestern supports experiential learning that allows students to engage with the physical environment and grow as leaders in sustainability. Several projects demonstrated this commitment to enabling hands-on learning.

The Northwestern Sustainability Fund awarded $50,000 to support student-led sustainability projects on campus. Since the fund was established in 2013, it has awarded 30 grants totaling more than $200,000.

One of the projects to receive funding was House by Northwestern, a student-driven effort to build a solar-powered house. The House by Northwestern team took their house to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Colorado, where they won sixth place overall and took first place in the market potential and communications categories. The team took third place for engineering and won the Student Choice Award for Super Awesome House.

Students also engaged in hands-on learning through campus tours and scavenger hunts. Class tours of the renovated Kresge Centennial Hall and other green campus features offered real-world examples of energy efficiency strategies for students in classes such as Topics in Contemporary Energy and Climate Change.

Students in McCormick School of Engineering courses also took on real-world challenges using the campus as a living laboratory. Students developed feasibility studies focused on topics including campus shuttle expansion and electric vehicle charging infrastructure expansion.

Communication and Engagement

Campus-wide support and participation are needed if Northwestern is to achieve its sustainability goals. Efforts to engage the campus and the broader community reached thousands of people during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Over the course of the year, sustainNU provided support for 55 campus events focused on sustainability, reaching more than 5,000 students, faculty, alumni, and community members. Events such as the Northwestern Community Picnic and the Evanston Green Living Festival extended the University’s sustainability message beyond the campus to the Evanston community.

sustainNU also engaged University staff, supporting five new offices in completing Green Office Certification and holding a recognition event for members of 19 offices already certified.

Web communications also expanded. The sustainNU email mailing list reached 3,750 subscribers and achieved an open rate of 32 percent, which is twice the industry average. sustainNU shared updates with more than 2,000 social media followers, and other Northwestern departments amplified the message and extended its reach.

Northwestern’s sustainability efforts were featured in national trade publications and presentations at conferences including the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference held in October.

sustainNU looks forward to continuing to make progress toward achieving Northwestern’s sustainability goals and leading the way toward a more sustainable future.

Together we will sustainNU.