Executive Summary

Annual Highlights

At Stanford, sustainability is a core value that permeates all aspects of campus life and is deeply integrated into academics, campus operations, communications, and lifestyle. Sustainability teachings and practices enrich our students’ academic experience, reduce the university’s environmental impact, save resources, and engage the campus community.

This executive summary provides an overview of Sustainability at Stanford: A Year in Review, 2015-16, and showcases efforts on a number of sustainability topics. It summarizes key accomplishments, results, and trends, also offering some insight into the work ahead. Stanford takes a data-driven approach to its sustainability programming, using detailed metrics to track progress over time.

Overall Sustainability Ranking

  • For the fourth consecutive year Stanford is on the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll, which lists universities that achieve the highest score—99—on the Princeton Review’s annual green rating. The Princeton Review tallied green rating scores for 640 institutions and included this information in its print and online guides.
  • Sierra magazine has ranked Stanford number five on its top 10 “Cool Schools,” out of more than 200 institutions evaluated in 2016. The Cool Schools feature story is published in the September/October 2016 issue of Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club. Stanford’s 2016 profile, as well as those of other schools, can be found online here.
  • Many of the external rankings, including those of the Princeton Review and Sierra magazine, are based largely on the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) of the national Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Stanford earned a Gold rating through AASHE’s latest version (2.1) of its assessment and national rating system. Stanford’s score in 2016 increased six percentage points to 81%, which is the second highest score earned to date of the nearly 800 institutions that participate in STARS.
  • In addition to external evaluations, the university has created an in-house building sustainability rating system to evaluate each building’s sustainability performance in six categories (energy, water, waste, purchasing, transportation, and occupant engagement), which combine into an overall weighted average sustainability rating. This data-driven system allows the university to recognize high-performing buildings and identify opportunities in those that need improvement. It has already motivated increased sustainability action in several facilities across campus.

Interdisciplinary Research and Sustainability Curricula

Stanford continues to produce leading interdisciplinary research to develop solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental problems. The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Precourt Institute for Energy (PIE) and others award millions of dollars each year to innovative new research projects. The shift in undergraduate requirements from a discipline-based to a capacity-based model, enables students to take sustainability-related courses that also count toward breadth requirements. All seven schools offer a wide range of environmental and sustainability-related courses and research opportunities, with about 1,000 sustainability-related graduate and undergraduate courses offered across campus.

Greening of the Energy Supply

Stanford has transformed its energy system through Stanford Energy System Innovations (SESI), which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 68% and total campus potable water use by 18%. SESI has received international acclaim for its innovation and efficiency, receiving top honors from the state of California, Engineering News-Record, and the American Institute of Architects, to name a few. The electricity-dependent energy supply system offers greater reliability, lower cost, and more flexibility for additional green power procurement. By the end of 2016, the 67-MW Stanford Solar Generating Station will be fully operational, along with photovoltaics on 16 sites across campus, for a 65% renewable electricity supply. The SESI website serves as a primary mode of communication about the project, and regular tours encourage students, staff, and faculty alike to gain a better understanding of the systems that support the academic mission of the university.

Expanded Water Conservation

Stanford has an extensive history of water conservation and proactively manages available resources to meet its needs, while preserving ecological systems and vital resources for future generations. In the face of ongoing drought, the university has expanded its sustainable water practices and conservation efforts for significant results. Stanford has reduced its potable water consumption by 49% since 2000, thanks not only to savings gained from SESI, but to conservation across all major campus water users.

Leadership in Building Design and Construction

The university replaced the energy efficiency goal of 30% beyond code with whole-building energy performance targets derived specifically for each new building coming online. The first buildings to utilize this new standard will begin to come online in 2016, and Stanford has a multitude of projects in development that incorporate some of the most aggressive performance benchmarks in the industry today.

Robust Energy Efficiency Programs

The university continuously works to reduce energy use in existing buildings and to incorporate energy efficiency best practices into all new buildings. Programs like the Whole Building Energy Retrofit Program and Energy Retrofit Program provide rebates for updating buildings with the most efficient systems possible, and have each saved more than $4 million in energy costs each year. A new focus on building control systems has maximized the potential for sustainable performance and system evaluation. As of 2015, Stanford has reduced energy intensity on campus 25% from a 2000 baseline, even with continued campus growth.

Expanded Alternative Transportation Options

In 2015, the employee drive-alone rate is at 50%, compared to 72% in 2002 at the inception of the enhanced Transportation Demand Management program. Commute-related emissions remain below 1990 levels, and this year saw record turnout for the annual Bike to Work Day. Stanford continues to expand access to electric vehicle charging stations while increasing the number of electric vehicles in its Marguerite and campus fleets.

Sustainability Enhancements in Food and Living

Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) Sustainable Food and Living programs help to influence generations of students to lead sustainable lifestyles, not only on campus but in their future communities. R&DE prioritizes local, organic, humanely raised, fairly traded food and options from family-owned farms and sustainable fisheries. With a focus on plant-based-protein menus, R&DE has reduced the amount of animal proteins purchased by 14% and increased plant-based protein purchases by 29%. In 2015, R&DE Student Housing led an irrigation retrofit project to reduce landscape irrigation by 46%, or 33 million gallons of water, and during its first year of performance the project significantly exceeded expectations, reducing water usage by over 66%.

Higher Landfill Diversion Rate

Stanford has increased its landfill diversion rate from 30% in 1994 to 66% in 2015, reducing its actual landfilled tonnage by 25% since 2000. Implementation of composting across campus will help to further improve these numbers as the university aims to meet California’s mandatory 75% diversion rate by 2020.

Behavioral Sustainability

The suite of programs aimed at engaging the community in sustainable practices continues to expand, with new targeted programs focused on high-impact areas such as systems integration, laboratories and events, and Cardinal Green campaigns that focus campus attention on specific opportunities for resource conservation. Annual savings from these programs total nearly $500,000. The fifth annual Celebrating Sustainability event showcased the thriving culture of sustainability and, for the first time, aligned with an academic symposium to highlight how the university translates its groundbreaking research into practical application in a global environment. Entitled Knowledge to Action, the daylong celebration brought together more than 35 campus groups, 60 volunteers, and 650 guests, culminating with a reception at the Central Energy Facility.

Leadership in Sustainability

Central to the academic endeavor has been the Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability, which boosted interdisciplinary research and teaching across campus, in recognition of the fact that solutions to complex challenges demand collaboration across multiple fields. Leading institutes such as the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment (founded in 2004) and Precourt Institute for Energy (founded in 2009) serve as the academic integration points and coordination platforms for interdisciplinary research and programs across all seven schools.

The Department of Sustainability and Energy Management (SEM) within Land, Buildings & Real Estate (LBRE) leads initiatives on campus physical infrastructure and programs in energy and climate, water, transportation, building operations, and information systems. The Office of Sustainability (founded in 2008 as an entity of SEM) connects campus departments and other entities and works collaboratively with them to steer sustainability-specific initiatives.

Creating a bridge between operational groups and academic entities are the Provost’s Committee on Sustainability and the Sustainability Working Group. With a commitment to uphold sustainability as a visible priority at Stanford, these committees work to encourage and promote collaborations in support of sustainability programs across schools, institutes, and departments, as well as with students. Additional critical sustainability partners at Stanford include all LBRE departments; Residential & Dining Enterprises, which houses its own sustainable food and student housing programs; the Stanford Recycling Center, run by Peninsula Sanitary Service, Inc.; University Communications; Government and Community Relations; the Alumni Association; and over 20 student organizations.

Collaborative Governance

The Provost’s Committee on Sustainability was launched in spring 2012 with the intention of bringing together key leaders on campus to focus on sustainability as a core value at Stanford. The committee reviews programs run by the Office of Sustainability and its partners, lends support for overcoming institutional barriers, and brings academic and operations leadership together. In implementing a campus sustainability strategy, the committee provides invaluable support to enable the success of key initiatives among students, staff, and faculty alike. Each of these initiatives directly supports the strategies and actions laid out in the Sustainability 3.0 plan.

Implementing and Measuring Sustainability

Educating and Training the Stanford Community