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History of University of Idaho’s Sustainability Accomplishments

As a signatory of two climate commitments, the University of Idaho is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and to incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach. Below is an abbreviated timeline of our university’s accomplishments related to sustainable solutions.

In 1986, the U of I District Energy Plant was converted to use biomass to generate power for the heating and cooling needs of the campus. Originally built in 1926, the District Energy Plant at the University of Idaho (often referred to as the steam plant or energy plant) burns locally produced wood waste and distributes utilities to campus buildings through miles of tunnels located under sidewalks and roads. Utilities produced include steam, chilled water and compressed air. While the university is provided with a sustainable fuel source, local lumber mills are able to remove waste in an environmentally friendly manner. In 2022, the U of I District Energy Plant installed three electricity-producing steam turbines that have offset the facility’s electrical demand by 13%, making the District Energy Plant the first carbon negative building on campus. For more information, contact Marc Compton, Mechanical Systems Engineer.

On March 3, 2005, former U of I President Tim White signed the Talloires Declaration. Talloires, the first official statement made by over 500 University administrators in 50 countries, declares a commitment to environmental sustainability in higher education. The declaration begins with a statement of deep concern over the “unprecedented scale and speed of environmental pollution and degradation” and it concludes with a ten-point action plan for incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy in teaching, research, operations and outreach. This was among the first steps the university took in the drive to integrate sustainability. Learn more about the Talloires Declaration.

A campus-wide student movement culminated in the establishment of the first Sustainability Center west of the Mississippi. A student-led and student-funded organization, the UISC supports efforts to create an active culture of sustainability and is committed to developing and maintaining healthful, educational living environments while fully integrating sustainable practices at the University of Idaho. Learn more about student sustainability at the U of I.

In 2007, President White signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) recently renamed the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments. Within this framework universities implement comprehensive plans in pursuit of climate neutrality, such as the climate action plans and greenhouse gas inventories. Learn more about the ACUPCC.

To fulfill Talloires and ACUPCC commitments and to oversee the Sustainability Center, U of I hired its Sustainability Campus Director.

Over 2,000 student volunteers have now planted more than 8,000 seedlings on campus, in the communities where we live and along Paradise Creek.

Since its inception the student grants program has awarded more than $160,000 to students who design an implement sustainable solutions for our campus and community. Projects include water conservation, energy efficiency and native plantings among many other environmental topics. Learn more about the Sustainable Initiatives Fund.

In 2008, the first greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory was prepared as a step towards meeting the University of Idaho’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. The report establishes a greenhouse gas emissions baseline, using data from 2005, the first year for which comprehensive data are available. Read the full report.

U of I policy (APM) 40.03 sets sustainable building standards, requiring “all new construction and major remodels shall be certified as meeting or exceeding a Silver LEED rating.” The first two LEED certified buildings, IRIC and College of Education achieved LEED GOLD in 2017. Learn more about the LEED Silver Policy.

U of I policy (APM) 60.50 states, “All University of Idaho units are required to purchase office paper with a minimum sustainable specification of acid-free 30% post-consumer waste recycled paper content. In addition, colored paper and paper of other sizes will be purchased as a 30% or higher recycled, acid-free paper. The University strongly supports purchasing the maximum recyclable content possible, up to 100% recycled, processed chlorine free paper.” Learn more about the Recycled Paper Policy.

The U of I Climate Action Plan (CAP) was developed to outline the steps the University of Idaho needs to take to become carbon neutral by 2030. The steps towards climate neutrality are also steps towards greater fiscal responsibility. Energy conservation, higher-performance buildings, decreasing fossil fuel use and other strategies outlined in this plan are cost‐effective, not only reducing our greenhouse gas emissions but also reducing operational costs and the impacts of future increases in energy and fuel prices. Eighty percent of the universitie’s GHG emissions result from building use. The most important strategy moving forward is to minimize the energy footprint of new buildings while increasing the efficiency of our existing buildings. Other priority areas include transportation, solid waste, purchasing and food.

Read the Climate Action Plan.

Pre- and post-consumer food waste from the undergraduate dining hall and food court was blended with livestock manure and used animal bedding (woodchips or straw). At its peak, the composting system had 52 tons of food waste composted annually.

Emissions data for this report spans from 2005 to 2011, with 2008 being the peak year for emissions on the U of I campus. Annual emissions steadily declined after the 2008 peak, and since the baseline year of 2005, a 12.5% decrease in annual emissions was recorded.

Read the full report.

A fall 2016 project to upgrade more than 66,800 lights across campus as part of an Avista energy-efficiency program yielded savings of more than $418,000 annually. The U of I also received a rebate of $1,044,365 from Avista for taking advantage of the program. All credit goes to Facilities — Utilities & Engineering Services who led this program.

The purpose of this Campus Sustainability Survey is to gather commuter, environmental literacy and cultural data to complete the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) survey and to update the U of I Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Survey respondents share beliefs, attitudes and norms on a wide variety of issue areas including climate change. For example, 93% of respondents believe climate change is happening. Read the survey report.

The U of I earned a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) Silver rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS measures and encourages sustainability in all sectors of higher education. STARS ranks schools under five categories: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration and innovation and leadership.

Read the U of I's 2019 STARS report.

By implementing significant conservation practices in its infrastructure, the University of Idaho earned the ranking of sixth among nearly 300 higher education institutions in 30 countries. Some specific achievements include:

  1. Using biomass to meet more than 90% of campus heating requirements
  2. Backing sustainability projects including reactive filtration, chilled beams and passive energy solutions
  3. Reducing electricity consumption by 25% and domestic water use by 40% over the past 14 years
  4. Having curriculum that focuses on sustainability, immersive experiences and campus as a living lab

The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges awarded the U of I a green rating of 96 out of 99 points for leadership in sustainability, publishing a Greenhouse Gas Inventory Plan, providing alternative transportation options and offering employees a condensed workweek option. U of I is one of 413 schools included in the Guide based on a review of nearly 700 colleges.

As part of the university’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, the GHG inventory provides the information needed to assess the effectiveness of steps taken so far. The most extensive GHG inventory to date, the report quantifies campus emissions from FY17 to FY19 and compares emissions to previous reports. Emissions were down 30% since accounting began in 2005, largely thanks to energy efficiency measures taken and improvements in operations. For more information, contact Marc Compton, Project Engineer.

The top five largest sources of emissions on campus were:

  1. Electricity consumption (51.4%)
  2. Stationary fuel use such as natural gas (15.3%)
  3. Animals/fertilizer (7.9%)
  4. Directly financed travel (7.6%)
  5. Food consumption (6.4%)

Read the full report.

A Sustainability Center and Facilities-led project led to the installation of the first rooftop photovoltaic solar array on the Moscow campus. The array produces 132 kW of power and generates 194,000 kWh each year and helps fulfill the university’s carbon neutrality commitment. The culmination of three years of work, the total project cost $363,000. Funding for the array came from the Sustainability Center (31%), Facilities (30%), the Office of the President (33%) and over 120 donors including ASUI, the Moscow High School Environmental Club and many university students, employees and Alumni (6%). Read about the solar energy initiative.

A report from Environment America Research & Policy Center compared STARS data from universities across the nation, ranking U of I as no. 3 in the nation for non-electric renewable energy produced on campus per student. Read the report, “America's Top Colleges for Renewable Energy 2020: Who Is Leading the Transition to 100% Renewable Energy on Campus?”

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) has ranked the University of Idaho fifth for Energy Reductions and Clean Renewable Energy Sources out of 356 institutions. Energy consumption is the largest source of greenhouse emissions on campus, and U of I Facilities in coordination with the Sustainability Center has worked to reduce building energy consumption and utilize alternative renewable energy sources. The University of Idaho operates a biomass-fired boiler that provides steam for the campus heating system and 12 standalone solar-powered streetlights. Over sixty percent of total energy consumption on campus came from clean and renewable sources as of 2019. With the recent completion of the university’s first rooftop photovoltaic array, the reliance on traditional fuel sources will continue to fall, bringing the campus one step closer to carbon neutrality. Read the news release.

President Scott Green formed the Sustainability Working Group, made up of student, faculty and staff representatives from colleges and offices across campus. The working group’s task was to envision and create a strategic plan to make the University of Idaho known for its excellence in sustainability. Read more about the Sustainability Working Group.

The President’s Sustainability Working Group released its White Paper on Sustainable Solutions for the University of Idaho. The White Paper presented a road map of sustainable progress with multiple recommendations on improving campus operations, academic opportunities and student experiences.

In August 2022, the University of Idaho hired its first Sustainability Director, Sarah Dawson. The Sustainability Director reports directly to the university president. This structure of governance was a strategic move created by the Sustainability Working Group to avoid the isolation of sustainability efforts into one office or department. The University of Idaho follows a holistic model of sustainability that permeates throughout the entire institution.

In the spring semester of 2023, the Sustainability Director formed the Campus Pollinator Committee, made up of faculty, staff and students across campus. The purpose of the committee is to help the University of Idaho become a certified Bee Campus and to continuously advocate for pollinators, such as enhancing pollinator habitat on campus or creating service-learning opportunities for students. Learn more about the Bee Campus certification.

In the spring semester of 2023, the Sustainability Director formed the Campus Tree Committee, made up of faculty, staff students and community members. The purpose of the committee is to help the University of Idaho become a certified Tree Campus and to create a campus tree-care plan that prioritizes sustainable tree maintenance and learning opportunities. Learn more about the Tree Campus certification

via Office of the President

Physical Address:
851 Campus Dr.
Moscow, ID 83844-3151

Phone: 208-310-5985


U of I Sustainability