CU Boulder has been one of the most environmentally friendly university campuses in the United States for more than half a century, beginning with the creation of a conservation education major in 1951. Students opened the Environmental Center—the first of its kind in the country—on Earth Day in 1970. They started the nation’s first collegiate recycling program in 1976, ultimately becoming a partnership between student government and Facilities Management in 1991. The program reached another milestone in 2008 when Folsom Field became the first major sports stadium in the nation to adhere to a zero-waste policy of recycling and composting all materials. In 2015, a brand-new recycling operations center was opened on main campus, providing a permanent home for the CU Boulder Recycling Program.

Other “firsts” over the years include student-negotiated, prepaid bus passes, 2004 student legislation to implement a capital construction fee for construction of five LEED-certified buildings, and the formal setting of goals for zero-waste operations in all student government-funded cost centers by 2015. In 2016, CU Athletics opened the nation’s first Net Zero Energy Indoor Practice Facility— equipped with nearly 2,600 solar panels that generate clean electricity to support the campus goal of achieving carbon neutrality.

The university has received national recognition for these accomplishments. It was the first to earn the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s highest rating for sustainability, and in 2009 Sierra magazine named it the country’s “greenest” school. All new building construction and major building remodels meet the guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, a nationally accepted benchmark for the design and construction of high-performance green buildings. CU Boulder has 26 LEED-certified buildings, including 15 Gold and 10 Platinum— the highest possible rating. The university also continues to install renewable energy via onsite solar photovoltaic systems.

Sustainability at CU

Sustainability Highlights

William Village North, the nation’s largest LEED Platinum residence hall, uses 39 percent less energy than traditional buildings its size. Many recycled and locally sourced materials were used in its construction, and its greywater system is estimated to save 700,000 gallons each year once operational.

CU Boulder’s laboratories use 22 percent of the campus’s square footage and 43 percent of its energy. CU Green Labs was created to minimize the use of energy, water, hazardous chemicals and material packaging. Nearly half of the university’s laboratories work with Green Labs to upgrade equipment, increase waste diversion and enact efficiency and conservation measures.

Campus Bike Stations at the UMC and Engineering Center offer many services that foster a strong cycling community at CU Boulder. Services include bicycle registration and free rentals as well as complimentary maintenance and repairs.

CU Athletics is the nation’s first zero-waste, net-zero energy and net-zero water athletics program in the nation. Nearly all trash generated at sports events is recycled, composted or reused. Ralphie’s Green Stampede promotes and rewards fans for green behaviors like water conservation and using alternative transportation. CU Boulder was the first winner of the EPA Game Day Challenge, with a record 90 percent diversion rate.

Campus Dining Services Over a quarter of the food served in CU Boulder’s dining centers is local and/or third-party verified, such as organic and fair trade. All dining centers offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan options at every meal, and all dining centers compost pre- and post-consumer food waste.

Chemical-Free Lawns CU Boulder has successfully avoided the use of chemical herbicides on campus turf since 2013. CU uses integrated pest management, which prioritizes hand removal of weeds, aeration, seeding and organic fertilizers. CU Boulder is the first major institution to implement a large-scale application of compost tea, which is brewed on-site and distributed through the irrigation system. This has reduced synthetic fertilizer use and increased soil health and biodiversity.

Recreation Center In order to achieve a LEED Platinum certification, several innovative strategies were incorporated into the Rec Center’s design, such as rooftop solar water-heating panels and waste-heat recovery from the ice rink.

Sustainability, Energy and Environmental Community SEEC brings together the best minds in environmental and sustainability research at CU and in federal labs. A new LEED-certified building houses shared labs and the adjoining refurbished space connects teaching, programs and collaborative work.

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