Skip to main content

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.

Northwestern’s buildings and spaces—located on campuses in Evanston, Chicago, and Qatar, with facilities accommodating the activities of thousands of students, researchers, faculty, staff, and visitors each year—account for 80 percent of the University’s carbon footprint.

Recognizing the dangers of climate change, we regard reducing energy-related greenhouse gas emissions—while still meeting the needs of the Northwestern community—as a top priority. We aim to reduce the University’s normalized energy consumption to 20 percent below 2010 levels by the year 2020 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. An active partner of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® program since 2015, Northwestern follows the program’s Guidelines for Energy Management and uses its Portfolio Manager software to benchmark and track University energy, water, and waste performance.

The Built Environment Working Group is the hub for sustainability efforts involving Northwestern’s buildings and grounds.

Key Focus Areas

  • Energy and water efficiency in existing buildings and grounds
  • Renewable energy use
  • Sustainability in new construction and building renovations
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Sustainability awareness and outreach programs for building users

Key Objectives


  • 1.1 Establish an energy conservation policy by 2017.
  • 1.2 Implement an ongoing energy management program based on ENERGY STAR® Guidelines for Energy Management.
  • 1.3 Implement an energy management information system by 2018.
  • 1.4 Reduce energy consumption at Northwestern by 20 percent (from 2010 baseline) by 2020.
  • 1.5 Establish a retro-commissioning and ongoing commissioning and optimization program by 2018

Renewable Energy

  • 1.6 Increase on-site renewable energy generation by installing one solar photovoltaic system, with up to 100kW electric capacity, per year.
  • 1.7 Establish a renewable energy procurement plan by 2020.


  • 1.8 Incorporate energy efficient and renewable energy technologies into design and construction standards and equipment specifications by 2018.
  • 1.9 Design new construction and renovations to use 50 percent less energy than required by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers standard (ASHRAE 90.1-2010).
  • 1.10 Ensure that all new construction projects begun in 2017 or later achieve no less than Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification v4.
  • 1.11 Ensure that renovations of existing buildings achieve no less than Silver LEED certification v4 by 2021.

Water and Land

  • 1.12 Audit water consumption to establish baseline and conservation goals.
  • 1.13 Establish a water conservation plan by 2018.
  • 1.14 Double the use of adapted plants on campus by 2020.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • 1.15 Reduce scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent (from 2012 baseline) by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
  • 1.16 Establish an institutional climate action plan by 2019

Download the Built Environment section of the Implementation Roadmap