at Stanford 2018–19 Year in Review

Building courtyard
People in front of map display
People cutting ribbon
People discussing heat maps

Stanford is a living lab of sustainability – in research, teaching, campus action, student experience, and community. Across the university, we have made great strides and are committed to accelerating our work to deepen our impact and service. Our research identifies challenges and helps develop critical solutions that can have a lasting impact on campus and around the world.”

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Stanford Provost Persis Drell

Thank you for your interest in our 2018–19 annual report. Together at Stanford, we continue to tackle new challenges with innovative and practical solutions to model an environmentally sustainable institution to help our campus, local, and global community understand, mitigate, and adapt to the changing climate.  While the report provides an overview of significant milestones, highlighted links will connect you to examples of the pervasive commitment to and thriving culture of sustainability at Stanford University.

Today, the university functions as a living laboratory of sustainability. Unique Stanford landmarks like the Central Energy Facility (CEF), the Codiga Resource Recovery Center, and the O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm, serve as implementation models and learning centers for thousands of researchers and visitors from all over the world, while also providing educational experiences for our students. We have undertaken ambitious initiatives to advance progress and create a thriving environment. Testament to this vision is our commitment to function on 100% renewable electricity by 2021, reducing our campus greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. We are also preparing and aligning this year for a zero waste Stanford by 2030, defined as 90% diversion from the landfill or higher, using the principles of sustainable materials management.

Solar panel with bell tower in background

As Stanford works to accelerate progress beyond these goals, it has incorporated sustainability into multiple strategic themes outlined in the vision for the university’s future. Stanford’s robust and holistic approach to sustainability actively supports its mission to benefit the region and the world. As an example, the university recently offered a package of community benefits addressing its long-term land use permit, including housing and transportation solutions, reflecting the university’s values of sustainable development and service to the community.

These and the additional 2018–19 academic year milestones outlined in the report that follow underscore our pledge to meaningful progress and applied innovation. More than 35 academic and operational departments work together to run sustainability, efficiency, and conservation programs that dramatically and collectively reduce Stanford’s environmental footprint, while maintaining a #1 spot as a research university among 940 reporting institutions of higher education. This annual report highlights and celebrates our collective work, deep partnerships, and our resilient future.

With gratitude and regards,

Fahmida A. Bangert Signature

Fahmida A. Bangert
Director, Sustainability and SEM Business Services
Department of Sustainability and Energy Management

Download a PDF of this Report

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally. UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, the United Nations adopted a plan to help create a prosperous future for the planet and guide its work through 2030. The agenda establishes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which countries will aim to advance progress toward. The SDGs cover a broad range of topics, and help countries and industries consider the impacts of their operations in a uniform manner. Throughout this report, you will see icons where Stanford’s work to innovate solutions aligns with the various SDGs.

UN Sustainable Development Goals
People using VR headset

Bridging Disciplines in Research and Academia

Stanford draws on a breadth and depth of expertise to advance visionary solutions to address climate change and cultivate a robust understanding of the natural world for a sustainable future. From engineering and business, to law, natural sciences, and the arts, leaders in their fields are collaborating to tackle climate impacts from a holistic perspective.

This interdisciplinary approach of the last two decades helps to generate flexible, scalable solutions for maximum impact in our region and world. Across disciplines, Stanford has expanded its support for community engaged teaching on sustainability, enhancing student learning while also directly adding value to regional sustainability programs. In 2018–19, more than 20 community-engaged learning courses connected Stanford students with local organizations to develop innovative solutions.

Planting seeds in greenhouse

This deep collaboration, in a transformative research and learning environment, influences generations of scientific and policy leaders. The university’s commitment to sustainability in the Long Range Plans ensures this collaborative spirit will continue in the decades ahead, as the university empowers ambitious research and partnerships that contribute to a deeper understanding of sustainability.

Photo of staircase and clean energy buildings

A Carbon-Free Energy Supply for an Electrified System

The university has taken progressive, cutting-edge steps in managing its energy supply. After implementation of the SESI program in 2015—which transitioned the campus to an electrically-powered heating and cooling system—the campus is well on its way to accomplish its target to reduce Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 80% in advance of the 2025 deadline. This also falls decades ahead of California’s statewide requirement that electricity be 100% carbon-neutral by 2045. To accomplish this, in 2021 a second solar generating station will come online and increase the university’s renewable electricity portfolio to 100%, up from 69% today.

Stanford’s approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the energy supply needs of the campus was first detailed in 2008, through its Energy and Climate Action Plan. The plan has enabled significant results that leave a small percent of Scope 1 and 2 emissions remaining, for which reductions are still under evaluation. Analysis began this year to understand and strategize solutions to eliminate these remaining emissions sources, beginning with an inventory of Stanford’s building-level natural gas and steam equipment.

Photo of solar panel array

With a renewable electricity-based energy supply system, Stanford can decarbonize buildings by avoiding natural gas and steam equipment in new buildings, and systematically phasing out this equipment in existing buildings over time as informed by the equipment inventory completed in spring 2019.

Photo of a small lake surrounded by trees

Stewarding Vital Water Resources

Stanford has an expansive history of efficient water management practices, stewarded by the Water Resources and Civil Infrastructure (WRCI) group, which also manages water systems infrastructure, roads, bridges, and dams on university land. The group proactively works to meet the needs of both the university community and the ecological systems it encompasses.

People standing around a table in outdoor garden

Through the work of its water conservation program, the campus has reduced total potable water use by 44% since its start in 2001. While 2018–19 was among the wettest years on record, conservation efforts implemented during the extended four-year drought that ended in 2017 continue to deliver long-term savings. All major campus water customers have achieved significant reductions in water consumption compared to the pre-drought baseline of 2013. Future water planning efforts continue through the active development of a Sustainable Water Management Plan, for which WRCI completed nearly 20 technical studies related to alternative water supplies, demand projection, and water conservation.

People dropping items in compost bins

Sustainable Materials Management and Zero Waste

Managing the campus’ resources to encourage reuse, waste reduction, diversion, and environmentally conscious purchasing remain crucial to Stanford maintaining its role as a leader in sustainability. Stanford is actively progressing on its path toward zero waste to meet the 90% diversion or higher target established through the Long Range Planning process.

While future planning is wrapping up, current efforts to minimize campus waste have had substantial impact. Through expansive reuse, recycling, and composting programs, the university has significantly reduced the total amount of material Stanford sends to landfill: 8,509 tons in 2018, for a diversion rate of 64%, compared to a peak of 14,000 tons sent to landfill in 1998.

For the Zero Waste Plan and Feasibility Study, Stanford worked to identify source-reduction efforts and efficiency opportunities throughout its system. In developing the plan and feasibility study, the university has undertaken a comprehensive analysis of its waste composition today, and potentially viable solutions that focus on waste reduction and reuse, driving toward a closed-loop system. It highlights responsible purchasing, extensive reuse, easy recycling, expanded composting, and minimal landfill as critical components for increased diversion and efficiency at Stanford.

People standing in recycling facility

Because responsible purchasing is so interwoven with waste minimization and efficient resource management, a partnership with Procurement Services has already led to updated Responsible Purchasing Guidelines as a resource for the campus community. Additional solutions under consideration include expanded common area waste stations, efficiencies in custodial services, and combined paper/plastics, metal, and glass (or single-stream) recycling. Some of these strategies are already successfully being utilized at the Redwood City campus.

People review sustainability signage

Expansive Evaluation, Conservation, and Engagement Programs

Sustainability is a thread that weaves through all aspects of life on campus, and the solutions implemented help Stanford to lead by example and highlight conservation tactics that advance progress. The Sustainability and SEM Business Services group (SSBS) serves as the central aggregator of campus sustainability programs for both infrastructure and behavior, which combine to reduce the university’s environmental footprint in a systematic way. From supporting student projects and a robust internship program, to stewarding Stanford’s role as a leader among peer institutions, SSBS provides comprehensive and dynamic program opportunities that nourish a culture of sustainability across campus. Founded in 2008, SSBS continually assesses opportunities for improvement. This year, office staff participated in the sustainability design team as a part of the committee working to shape the future of sustainability through the Long Range Planning process.

This focus on planning and governance allows for holistic analysis of campus performance and detailed planning for improvements. In 2018–19, the office undertook planning support for two key sustainability targets: becoming 80% carbon free by 2025 and zero waste (defined as 90% diversion or higher) by 2030. In addition to these campus-wide plans, SSBS also undertook strategic evaluation of its business systems group, which manages thousands of utility data points to monitor and analyze consumption and trends for maximum efficiency. The program offers unparalleled transparency into campus performance via 135 building dashboards and 25+ systems dashboards.

A group of people wearing shirts that read, 'Cardinal Green'

While individual departments manage specific infrastructure programs, since 2017 the My Cardinal Green program has provided a streamlined pathway for over 4,000 members of the campus community to engage with and practice sustainable behaviors. The program provides personalized conservation suggestions for students, staff, and faculty, with actions included from more than 10 campus partner groups, including targeted opportunities for labs, offices, IT infrastructure, events, and custom student projects.

Person reading a machine display

Pioneering Energy Management Solutions

Reducing energy use in existing buildings is one of the primary pillars of Stanford’s Energy and Climate Plan, and a cornerstone of its leadership as a sustainable campus. Meeting the energy needs of an enterprise research organization requires a comprehensive, innovative approach to do so in a sustainable way. The Facilities Energy Management (FEM) team utilizes multiple dynamic operating systems and efficiency programs to optimize energy consumption in existing buildings, and incorporates best practices into all new buildings. FEM coordinates with stakeholders across campus strategically to advance programs and initiatives that realize high-performance outcomes.

Person working on energy equipment

While the Stanford Energy System Innovations (SESI) project enabled significant reductions, demand-side management—through programs like the Whole Building Energy Retrofit Program (WBERP) and Energy Retrofit Program (ERP)—accounts for nearly 10% of the savings, for a cumulative savings of over $14.5 million since the baseline year. Another critical program that drives conservation is the Integrated Controls and Analytics Program (iCAP). The program streamlines diverse energy monitoring and controls platforms into a single enterprise system, allowing facilities teams to more adeptly manage utility consumption. Through iCAP, flexible, customized applications help to maximize savings with greater accessibility and performance insights. iCAP has also helped Stanford grow as a leader within the “Smart Campus” space. The program has ensured that Stanford’s operational efforts complement the highly regarded academic research programs exploring the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. iCAP team leaders collaborate with the most innovative commercial property owners from around the world to identify, test, and vet new building automation technologies that will make our facilities more productive for occupants and more efficient to operate.

People review sustainability signage

Living and Dining Sustainably

Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) is home to 13,000 students, and serves 18,000 meals per day across its more than 300 facilities for dining, catering, hospitality, and residences. R&DE collaborates with faculty, students, and staff to foster behavior change, reduce energy and water consumption and waste production, educate students through teaching academic classes, and integrate long-term sustainable thinking into how it operates.

R&DE prioritizes local, organic, humanely raised, fairly-traded food, as well as food from family-owned farms and sustainable fisheries. R&DE’s efforts directly influence student learning and the overall campus culture, as well as the lives of Stanford’s students as they move into new communities after graduation. Across its eateries and cafes, R&DE dramatically expanded its food recovery and donation programs this year. Working with the Silicon Valley Food Rescue, the organization implemented an “A La Carte” food rescue program, which donates excess food from dining halls, cafes, and concessions to local organizations. Coupled with source reduction strategies that weigh excesses from meals to inform proper ordering, R&DE is finding new and innovative ways to reduce food waste.

A group of people wearing shirts that read, 'Cardinal Green'

This systematic analysis to identify opportunities for efficiencies is a focus across R&DE operations. An advanced analytics program has provided a new level of insight into building operations related to energy, water, and waste.

This year R&DE has experimented with a number of new technologies, including smart thermostats, sensors that track air quality and thermal comfort, and they even worked with students to develop their own sensors that monitor waste production and service. Additionally, a comprehensive survey was undertaken of more than 1,000 graduate students to get an in-depth look at how they manage their waste, how much they are willing to sort, and how frequently and how far they are willing to travel to dispose of it.

People cutting a ribbon

Enhancing Building Design and Construction

The built environment at Stanford is critical in supporting the academic mission, providing collaborative spaces that enable cross-disciplinary collaboration to connect research, practice, and action around some of the world’s most pressing challenges. The Department of Project Management (DPM) oversees major construction on campus and continually works to elevate the application of sustainable practices in building and design. Its holistic method of benchmarking drives improvement so that each new building coming online performs better than the last.

One of the most expansive projects in the university’s history has been construction of a new satellite campus in Redwood City, which opened in March 2019. The 35-acre site includes four new buildings that house more than 2,500 staff, as well as a recreation center, café, parking garage, and childcare center. A “mini-Central Energy Facility” powers the facilities using heat recovery for heating and cooling purposes, and incorporates the latest in sustainable design. Low-flow fixtures, LED lights with sensor technology, automated mechanical shades to conserve energy, and recycled water for irrigation are just some of the components that contribute to this state-of-the-art campus.

A group of people wearing shirts that read, 'Cardinal Green'

For all projects coming online, operations teams collaborate with the building design team to understand energy consumption and energy targets for all buildings, working closely together to ensure buildings perform as designed. Because of the coordinated approach toward achieving sustainability targets, all Stanford buildings operate at a LEED gold standard.

A 100%-electric bus on campus

Expanded Sustainable Transportation Options

Stanford is committed to achieving the “No Net New Commute Trips” standard, which is defined by the Stanford Community Plan as no additional trips above a measured baseline during peak commute hours in the campus commute direction. Stanford has met, and plans to continue to meet, this standard as proposed under its General Use Permit.

People boarding the Caltrain

The Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program develops innovative approaches for getting students, faculty, and staff to campus by means other than single-occupancy vehicles. Spearheaded by Stanford Transportation, the TDM program aims to reduce university-related traffic impacts, emissions, and parking demand while the campus continues to grow.


Sustainable Stanford thanks all its campus partners who contributed content for the 2018–2019 Year in Review, and for their ongoing efforts to create a more sustainable campus environment.

Photo and Video Credits

  • Matt Canfield
  • Brian Christ
  • Linda Cicero
  • Scott Gould
  • Tim Griffiths
  • Kurt Hickman
  • Stan Olszewski
  • Aaron Kehoe
  • Todd Quam
  • Annie Rucker
  • Tamer Shabani
  • Keith Uyeda