Despite UC Irvine shifting to remote learning and work in fiscal year 2020–21, the campus persevered in maintaining its sustainable operations and engagement. UC Irvine is leveraging the lessons of the pandemic to continue to adapt and strengthen its sustainable practices for the years ahead.

The campus built upon its robust green building portfolio, certifying two LEED Platinum buildings — the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building and the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute. Additionally, Plaza Verde, a student housing project, earned LEED Gold certification. UC Irvine Dining also opened The Planteatery, dedicated to providing plant-forward options. The campus was also recognized as having the 10th greenest fleet in the nation, making it the highest-ranked university on the list.

UC Irvine Green Labs transitioned from in-person assessments to a virtual platform. The program experienced its highest level of participation, certifying four new labs, with others nearing certification completion. The UC Irvine Sustainability Fundamentals Training for Staff also shifted to an online platform. The online format was uniquely designed for all work settings — campus, remote and hybrid — providing an overview of simple sustainable actions and resources applicable to all work types.

With decreased personnel on campus, UC Irvine experienced a 45% reduction in scope 3 (commuting and business air travel) emissions from the previous year, whereas scope 1 and 2 emissions dropped only slightly, by 4%. Potable water use decreased by 38% in comparison to the previous year. UC Irvine produced 65% of its normal total solid waste as compared to previous years and maintained a diversion rate of 80%.


UC Irvine student fellow posing for a headshot

The Environmental Justice League: UC Irvine Student Fellow with UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative Establishes Campus Collective Focused on Community-Driven, Equity-Based Climate Solutions

Neda Ibrahim, UC Irvine Carbon Neutrality Initiative student fellow, established the Environmental Justice Collective, a student-led project that seeks to educate the campus community about environmental justice issues.

San Gabriel mountains as viewed from the UC Irvine campus

Addressing Environmental Health Disparities in Southern California’s Black Communities

Not far from UCI, some of the nation’s unhealthiest air blankets neighborhoods. One of the world’s busiest international airports, shipping ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles and their associated diesel truck traffic, industrial sites and oil refineries contribute to pollution not just in the air, but in the soil and water, as well. Residents in those communities are at higher risk of asthma, cancer and cardiovascular disease associated with pollution, among other negative health impacts.


Bar graph depicting emissions levels between 2009 and 2020, with projected goals through 2050, and split into two categories. Scopes 1+2 decreased goal of 0 emissions by 2025. Scopes 1+2+3 goal of 0 emissions by 2050.

Metric Tons CO₂e in Thousands

Scopes 1 and 2 emissions decreased by 19% in 2020, while scope 3 emissions (commuting and business air travel) decreased significantly, 54%, due to the pandemic. (At the time of data collection, campus greenhouse gas emissions were not yet third-party verified. Updates will be made, as needed, in future reports.)


Bar graph depicting Renewable Electricity Generation levels from 2016 through 2020, split into 2 categories: On-Campus Systems and Off-Campus UC Clean Power Program

Mwh/Year in Thousands


Line graph depicting energy use intensity (EUI) between 2011 and 2020, split into two categories: EUI Target and EUI Actual. EUI Actual has remained under the EUI target goal throughout these years.

EUI (kBtu/Sqft)

UC Irvine saw a decrease in its EUI in the calendar year 2020.


Percent of total spend on food and beverages that was spent on sustainable food and beverage in 2020 and 2021 with a 2030 goal of 25%.


The COVID-19 pandemic created many challenges that affected UC Irvine Dining’s ability to increase its sustainable food sourcing. Student Housing and Dining Services experienced a low resident occupancy count, and classes were held almost entirely online. During this time, the majority of dining locations were closed, with the remaining locations switching from dine-in to dine-out or to-go only.

Green building

UC Irvine added two LEED Platinum certifications within the academic core. In addition, Plaza Verde, a student housing project, earned a Gold certification.

20 Platinum, 13 Gold, 4 Silver and 2 Certified

Total number of LEED certifications


At the time of this report, sustainable procurement data was not yet available for fiscal year 2020–21. Fiscal year 2019–20 data is available in the 2020 Annual Sustainability Report.

Sustainable Building & Laboratory Operations
Two laboratory beakers with stems with leaves coming out the top

total assessed research labs

Although the pandemic shifted the UC Irvine Green Labs program from in-person assessments to a virtual platform, the campus experienced greater interest and participation rates than the prior year. UC Irvine certified four new labs, with an additional two labs currently pursuing certification at the time of reporting. Lab groups expressed they enjoyed the community and team-building aspect of the program because it allowed them to work together even when needing to work remotely or having staggered schedules.


While allowing complimentary parking to support the campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainable commuting remained steady from the previous year. Additionally, the adoption of zero-emission vehicles at UC Irvine increased, with nearly 7% of all commute vehicles running on clean fuel. 

Riding a bike icon

of UCI employees are utilizing alternative commuting methods

Electric vehicle charging station icon

EV charging stations at this location for 2020-2021

Electric vehicle with charger icon

of light-duty vehicles acquired in 2021 were electric (zero-emission) and hybrid vehicles


In 2020 185 million gallons of portable water used. 2021 115 million gallons of portable water used

In fiscal year 2020–21, UC Irvine experienced a decrease in potable water use of 38% from the year before, which can be attributed to operational impacts due to the pandemic. This year’s report illustrates the difference in water consumption between fiscal year 2019–20 and fiscal year 2020–21 instead of measuring progress toward the 2025 goal.


Bar graph depicting waste generated between 2016 and 2020, split between four categories: Recycle, Organics, Landfill, and Allowable Residual Conversion.


Due to the reduced number of students and staff on campus in fiscal year 2020–21, UC Irvine produced 6,840 total tons of solid waste (excluding construction and demolition). This was 65% of the normal total solid waste produced at UC Irvine, as compared to pre-pandemic fiscal years.


Line graph depicting total waste diverted between FY2011-12 and 2020-21, split into Diversion rate (no C&D) and Diversion rate (MSW+C&D). Diversion rates in 2020-21 were around 80% in both categories, with a goal of 90%. 

Percent Diverted

UC Irvine diverted 80% of its total solid waste (5,484 tons) by recycling, composting and reusing. This was a similar diversion rate achieved during pre-pandemic years, demonstrating that even in the midst of a pandemic, the campus diversion processes worked.


UC Irvine was the proud recipient of several sustainability awards in 2020.

A full list of awards is featured on the UC Office of the President’s website.