UC San Diego averts 1.4 Million Pounds of Greenhouse Gas Emissions during the Cool Campus Challenge

By Sara McKinstry, Campus Sustainability Manager

UC San Diego announced its top point-earning individual, team and residential college for the April 2019 Cool Campus Challenge at its annual sustainability awards ceremony held May 9 at The Loft. 

The University of California’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative and the Center for Sustainable Energy sponsored the Cool Campus Challenge. During the four-week online competition, students, faculty and staff from every UC campus and the Office of the President logged actions that they were taking to reduce their carbon footprint, including things like washing laundry in cold water, going meatless at mealtime, shutting fume hood sashes when not in use, biking, walking and taking transit. 

Left to right: Allyson Long (representing team winner Scripps Institution of Oceanography), individual winner Sarah Ji ’19, and Vanessa Le (representing college winner Eleanor Roosevelt College). Photo by Rhett Miller, UC San Diego.

More than 22,000 students, faculty and staff from all UC campuses and locations participated in the challenge. UC Berkeley won the competition based on total points, followed closely by UCLA and UC Irvine, the first winner in 2015. UC Merced had the highest overall participation rate. At UC San Diego, more than 1,250 students, staff and faculty, including the Preuss School, joined in the fun, preventing nearly 1.4 million pounds of greenhouse gases emissions, the equivalent of removing 135 passenger vehicles from roadways for one year. Tritons came in seventh place overall.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Eleanor Roosevelt College team leaders found that uniting their peers in a fun spirit of competition helped reinforce their existing sustainable behaviors. “I think when SIO peers started seeing how even small actions made an impact on the challenge, it became an easy and all-encompassing spirited competition,” said Allyson Long, SIO Safety and Sustainability Coordinator. “Really, most people were doing these things already, so it was a matter of getting into the team spirit and collaborating as a group, which ultimately proved victorious.” Vanessa Le, ERC Student Council Sustainability Advocate and ERC Cool Campus Challenge team lead organizer, expressed a similar sentiment. “Our victory in the Cool Campus Challenge sets ERC on the right path to UC San Diego’s zero waste and carbon neutral goals. We could not have done it without the collaboration of ERC council members, residents and students.” 

The larger impact of the Cool Campus Challenge is what excited Long, Le and Ji most about being involved. “I think working towards UC-wide, statewide and nationwide change is the most important thing to do, and showing that individuals truly care about and support sustainable practices is the first step to tackling the main contributors to climate change, like corporations and big institutions like the UC system,” Ji said. 

“The challenge for all of us now is to keep taking action even though the competition has ended,” said Michelle Perez, UC San Diego’s Interim Director of Sustainability and Carbon Neutrality. “The climate we depend on is now depending on us. So let’s keep up the great actions we saw Tritons taking during the Cool Campus Challenge.”

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