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Program Areas

Sustainability is Our Priority

Northwestern’s Commitment to Sustainability

Working together towards a sustainable future.

Northwestern is committed to fostering environmental and ethical stewardship; providing a living-learning environment that supports student-, faculty-, and staff-led sustainability initiatives; and improving our built environment and natural ecology. As one of the world’s leading academic institutions, Northwestern strives to be exemplary in addressing sustainability, climate change, and the opportunities and challenges they pose. The University is dedicated to creating a greener campus by reducing waste, conserving water and energy, and promoting sustainable modes of transportation. Northwestern recognizes the power of teaching and research in driving increased awareness and public understanding, knowledge transfer, discoveries, and new technologies. We are committed to achieving the greatest impact by offering courses, supporting research, and creating partnerships that focus on sustainability, renewable energy, water conservation, and climate change.

Progress to Date

Building on Past Success

Northwestern accelerated its sustainability journey in 2017 with its inaugural 5-year Strategic Sustainability Plan (View the 2017-2021 Plan). The Plan supported efforts ranging from a 15-year partnership with clean energy developer Clearway Energy, to campus energy efficiency improvements, to more robust access to low-carbon transportation options on campus. Additionally, our efforts have led to a 20% reduction in energy use intensity (kBtu/ft2) from a 2010 baseline and a 15% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2012.

In the years since its publication, the University accomplished the following:

  • In 2020, 2021, and 2022 Northwestern became and remains the first and only university to receive the EPA’s highest honour for leadership in energy efficiency—the prestigious ENERGY STAR® Sustained Excellence award. This is the EPA’s highest honour recognizing leadership in energy efficiency and conservation solutions.
  • In 2022, Northwestern was designated a 2022 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School Postsecondary Sustainability Awardee, which recognizes innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs, promote better health, and ensure effective environmental education.
  • In 2020, Northwestern received the second highest rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) for collegiate sustainability, STARS Gold, marking an improvement from Northwestern’s 2017 Silver Rating.
  • Northwestern maintains its ranking as a Tree Campus Higher Education certified campus from the Arbor Day Foundation and is a Bike Friendly University certified campus from the League of American Bicyclists.

Key Program Areas

sustainNU supports a range of action plans targeting seven key program areas.

Energy & Emissions logo

Energy & Emissions

Northwestern’s goal is to continue to measure and reduce the University’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, assessing and developing the tools necessary for a carbon neutral future.

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Buildings & Infrastructure

Northwestern’s goal is to ensure existing facilities, new construction, and supporting campus infrastructure are resilient, reliable, accessible, and sustainable.

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Transportation & Mobility

Northwestern’s goal is to reduce emissions associated with transportation and improve accessibility to campuses.

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Water & Ecology

Northwestern’s goal is to conserve water and foster low-impact, diverse, and resilient landscapes.

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Waste & Procurement

Northwestern’s goal is to implement a cohesive campus-wide approach to reduce waste and enable more sustainable procurement.

Academics, Experiential Learning & Innovation logo

Academics, Experiential Learning & Innovation

Northwestern’s goal is to facilitate academic collaborations that support a campus-wide sustainability and environmental justice-oriented curriculum, experiential learning, and applied research.

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Communications & Engagement

Northwestern’s goal is to engage Northwestern and external communities, with a focus on communicating and collaborating on sustainability commitments.