Over the past year, sustainability programming, initiatives and operations played an important role in helping UC Irvine navigate the return to campus for students, staff and faculty.

A highlight of the year was UC Irvine receiving its second Platinum rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (AASHE STARS). UC Irvine’s 2021 sustainability report earned the highest score ever obtained by an institution with 88.59 points. The campus also joined the inaugural U.S. cohort to adopt the Okanagan Charter, which calls on higher education institutions to integrate health and well-being into the campus environment.

The transition back to in-person classes and work also led to greater opportunities for campus engagement. More than 50 trees were planted in graduate student housing during two volunteer tree planting events, helping to maintain UC Irvine’s Tree Campus USA designation for 13 consecutive years. For the first time in three years, UC Irvine Student Housing and the UCI Sustainability Resource Center hosted in-person events including Sustainival and Earth Week. These events featured sustainable fashion shows, composting workshops, field trips to the Ecological Preserve, and educational sessions on gardening, reusable materials and green cleaning.

UC Irvine also began selling parking permits in July 2021 for the first time since March 2020, with the campus community having mostly returned by spring 2022. The results have shown that telework and online classes greatly support reductions in commuter emissions. Additionally, although total campus waste generation returned to 90% of pre-pandemic levels, UCI continued to divert 79% of waste.


Joana Tavares and Melissa Brock research the waters affected by the Orange County oil spill

Rapid Research Response: UCI Scientists Study the Effects of an Oil Spill on Orange County’s Coastline

In October 2021, a massive oil spill occurred along Orange County’s coastline. In response, Ph.D. candidates Joana Tavares and Melissa Brock formed the Southern California Oil Spill Project at UCI. The project analyzes water and sea life specimens to understand how the oil spill is affecting microorganisms in local coastal waters.

UCI graduate team wins first place in Phase 1 of the EPA's Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students

UCI Takes First Place in EPA Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students

A cross-disciplinary team of graduate students took first place in phase 1 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students for their entry, Unearthing Lead: The Power of Historical Maps, which reveals the dangerous levels of lead in soils in Santa Ana. The team collaborated with faculty from the Program in Public Health and members of the Orange County Environmental Justice organization to create the video.


A graph depicting emissions over time shows UC Irvine emitted 97,093 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021, with 73,201 metric tons of scope 1 net emissions, 1,082 metric tons of scope 2 net emissions, and 22,810 metric tons of scope 3 net emissions.

Metric Tons CO₂e in Thousands

2021 data will be finalized after verification by a third party by early 2023.

Scopes 1 and 2 increased 13% from 2020. Scope 3 emissions (air travel and commuting) were still down approximately 65% from pre-pandemic levels. UC Irvine plans to purchase offsets to meet 1990 emission levels but may not due to factors including limited availability of policy compliant offsets or proposed future policy changes.


A graph depicts renewable energy use over time. UC Irvine used 35,711 megawatt-hours from the off-campus UC wholesale power program and 5,963 megawatt-hours from on-campus systems.

Mwh/Year in Thousands


A line graph depicts energy use intensity over time. The energy use intensity at UC Irvine in 2021 of 122.85 British thermal units used per square foot was below the annual target of 126.38.

EUI (kBtu/Sqft)

UC Irvine saw an increase in its EUI in the calendar year 2021.



of food and beverage purchases met sustainability criteria ($1.8M)


of food and beverage purchases were plant-based ($1.6M)

UC Irvine Dining encountered a couple of challenges throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but was still able to increase its spend on sustainable food and beverages compared to the previous year.

Green building

No new buildings received LEED certification this past year.

20 Platinum, 13 Gold, 4 Silver and 2 Certified

Total number of LEED certifications



green spend on electronics (29%)

green cleaning supplies

green spend on cleaning supplies (61%)

Office furniture icon

green spend on indoor office furniture (99%)

office supplies icon

green spend on office supplies (40%)

The University resumed reporting on green spend, as defined in the Sustainable Procurement Guidelines, in fiscal year 2021–22 and reached out to suppliers for spend data in four product categories for this year’s report.

Green spend is defined as meeting preferred or minimum criteria in UC’s Sustainable Procurement Guidelines.
Suppliers reporting: Electronics (6), Furniture (2), Cleaning supplies (4), Office supplies (1).
UC Systemwide Spend Analytics category data provided by CalUSource.

Sustainable Building & Laboratory Operations

UC Irvine certified two new labs in fiscal year 2021–22. The campus also gained greater engagement through the development of the quarterly UCI Green Labs newsletter and participation in campus tabling events.

Two laboratory beakers with stems with leaves coming out the top

total assessed green laboratories


Riding a bike icon

of students and employees are utilizing alternative commuting methods

Electric vehicle charging station icon

EV charging ports

Electric vehicle with charger icon

of light-duty vehicles acquired in fiscal year 2021–22 were electric (zero-emission) and hybrid vehicles

In fiscal year 2021–22, UC Irvine began selling parking permits for the first time since March 2020, and the campus community mostly returned by spring 2022. The results have shown what telework and online classes can do to support the reduction of commuter emissions. Additionally, due to the new discounted day-use permit offered, the campus saw more students “stack” their schedules to two days per week. Anteater Express (a student-run shuttle system) had limited routes due to a shortage of bus drivers. Transit has reduced greatly due to Metrolink and Amtrak running limited scheduling since 2020.


A bar graph depicts water use. UC Irvine used 4,225 gallons per capita in 2022, a 78% reduction from baseline.

Thousands of gallons per capita

*Based on a 3-year average of fiscal years 2005-08.

Water use was down due to COVID-19, and the campus is on track to meet the 2025 goal.


A stacked bar graph depicts waste generated over time. UC Irvine generated 0.29 pounds per person per day of recycling, 0.16 pounds per person per day of organics, and 0.31 pounds per person per day of landfill in 2022.


*These numbers might include a small amount of incineration that is being phased out.

Waste generation returned to 90% of pre-pandemic total waste generation levels in fiscal year 2021–22.


A line graph depicts the percentage of waste diverted over time. UC Irvine diverted 77% with no construction and demolition, and 79% with municipal solid waste and construction and demolition in 2022.

Percent Diverted

UC Irvine’s waste diversion rate has decreased from 80% to 79% for fiscal year 2021–22. Fiscal year 2021–22 saw increases in waste contamination in student housing. This is due to reduced in-person waste diversion trainings for both students and staff. Also, one animal bedding compactor has been down for six months, resulting in over 50 tons going into landfill instead of diverted as compost. Trainings and compactor repair will be the focus for fiscal year 2022–23.


UC Irvine is a two-time recipient of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (AASHE STARS) Platinum rating (2018 and 2021). UC Irvine’s 2021 sustainability report earned the highest score ever obtained by an institution: 88.59 points. This rating system assesses the broad spectrum of sustainability initiatives and programs across campus, with sections covering academics, engagement, operations and public administration. A full list of awards is featured on the UC Office of the President’s website.