Campus Sustainability

The University administration has set challenging goals for energy use, local foods purchasing, recycling and more. Fortunately, we have a plan (the Illinois Climate Action Plan, or iCAP) that will enable us to achieve those goals. Sustainability principles and practices are embraced by many at Illinois. People from all over this broad campus are taking action to make our campus more sustainable. Our students may be the most active and vocal on campus, but faculty and staff are also engaged in the pursuit. Explore the ways that your colleagues are making a difference. You, too, can take action!

Check out our sustainability video playlist!

iSEE has compiled more than 50 videos highlighting its own programs and events — along with sustainable features from across the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. View them on YouTube >>>

A recent example:

Clean Energy Initiatives and Research on the U of I campus

Alternate, clean energy sources are a major push in the Illinois Climate Action Plan, and Illinois researchers are playing a role in studying current — and future — sources to power campus and the world without burning fossil fuels! In 2020, iSEE was thrilled to engage with three new initiatives exploring clean power sources:


  • LOW-TEMPERATURE GEOTHERMAL: U of I scientists and engineers intend to work with national and international geothermal practitioners, decision makers, and stakeholders to develop a research program in low-temperature geothermal exchange, direct use heating and cooling, and underground thermal energy storage. The Illinois Geothermal Coalition is working to make Illinois the leading Midwest institution for geothermal energy research. Learn more at >>>
  • NUCLEAR MICRO-REACTOR: Researchers from the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering and partners are pursuing a major grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to bring a research micro-reactor to the Illinois campus. Advanced micro-reactors are small (can fit in a truck), go 20 years without refueling, use tiny fuel particles, have new shutdown technology, and could produce nearly 13% of campus energy needs. Learn more at Illinois Microreactor Project >>>
  • HYDROGEN ENERGY: The Grainger College of Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory have established the Midwestern Hydrogen Partnership to advance and promote the development and adoption of hydrogen technologies for the Midwest, to enable collaborations with industry, academic partners, and stakeholders across the Midwest, and to help create economic development opportunities throughout the region. Learn more at hydrogen >>>


Past and current efforts on campus, including solar, wind, and biomass

During the past decade, Facilities & Services (F&S) has led efforts to:

In addition to various faculty experts on alternative energy, faculty in iSEE’s Campus as a Living Laboratory program are exploring new options with solar, wind, geothermal, and other sources.

Read more on our CALL page >>>

Campus Sustainability Contests

Are you up to the challenge?

Each year, iSEE hosts month-long sustainability challenges. These are opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to incorporate eco-conscious practices into their daily lives, compete with peers to win prizes, and share helpful hints with our amazing sustainability community here at U of I. More than anything, we hope that our participants can take the time to learn, self-reflect, and turn short-term goals into lifelong behaviors.

Visit our Contests and Challenges landing page for current contest information, the most recent updates, and information about how to keep in touch.

Campus Race to Zero Waste

In Spring 2021, for the first time since 2014, iSEE and Facilities & Services (F&S) participated in a national race for campuses across the country to show their commitment to recycling and reducing landfill waste.

The Campus Race to Zero Waste, formerly known as Recyclemania, ran from Jan. 31-March 27, 2021. Each week, F&S gathered and reported campus waste data, while iSEE promoted opportunities for recycling and waste reduction. Together, we strengthened and showcased our Illini commitment to protecting the environment and implementing the Illinois Climate Action Plan objective to reduce landfill waste.

Campus waste was tracked in five categories: landfill, cardboard, paper, bottles & cans, and food organics. View our weekly progress, and the final waste measurements, on the Illinois Climate Action Plan Portal!

Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN)

The Post-Landfill Action Network (PLAN) cultivates, educates, and inspires the student-led zero waste movement, informing students about the waste crisis and equipping them with the necessary skills and resources to implement solutions to waste in their campus communities.

PLAN was founded in 2013 by a group of college students. These students witnessed a systemic waste problem on their campus and developed the first student-led, financially self-sustaining, zero waste move-out program of its kind. Other campuses wanted to replicate the program and from there, PLAN was born.

Thanks to Student Sustainability Committtee (SSC) funding, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a PLAN member, which means you are a PLAN member as well! Follow these simple steps to access your membership:

  1. Visit
  2. Register using your email
  3. Confirm account in your inbox (make sure to check your “Spam” folder!)
  4. Log in and browse your newly available content!

Resources you can use as a member include:

Learn more about our campus’s PLAN membership and how you can get involved >>>

Sustainable Investing

Campus, University, Foundation Committed to Green Investments

The University of Illinois is putting its financial muscle behind efforts to promote renewable fuels as an alternative, with socially responsible investment practices, new eco-conscious fund managers, and a bold new investment in a fund promoting sustainability.

Read a 2021 article on the efforts by the U of I System and the U of I Foundation >>>

Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP)

The major document for campus sustainability at Illinois, iCAP 2020, points to major carbon emission reductions and other sustainability improvements on campus — with a stated goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The 2020 document is the third iCAP, with previous publications in 2010 and 2015. Read more about the iCAP >>>

Get Funded! Campus as Living Laboratory for Sustainability Research

The Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) has announced that it will provide seed funding for Illinois faculty members to assist in preparing a proposal for external funding that will include using campus sustainability features and projects in their research related to sustainability.

Specifically, iSEE wants to leverage this seed money to attract external funds that are relevant to objectives from the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP). More than 700 iCAP projects — categorized into energy, water, transportation, building and space, procurement and waste reduction, education, extension, and general research — are online for public assessment. These projects, many based on unique facilities/programs on campus, have great value for developing research and education projects targeting external resources; and at the same time, the realization of many campus sustainability objectives will need research support.

Read more >>>

International Climate Emergency Letter

In Fall 2019, University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen reinforced the Second Nature Climate Commitment for all three U of I campuses (see tab below) by signing a Climate Emergency Letter as one of more than 200 Global Universities and Colleges for the Climate.

The letter was shared with key government officials and the media in advance of the COP 25 meeting in Madrid in December 2019. It reads:

As institutions and networks of higher and further education from across the world, we collectively declare a Climate Emergency in recognition of the need for a drastic societal shift to combat the growing threat of climate change. 

The young minds that are shaped by our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and capability to respond to the ever-growing challenges of climate change. We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a greener and cleaner future for all.

We are today committing to collectively step up to the challenge by supporting a three-point plan which includes:

  1. Mobilizing more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation;
  2. Committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest;
  3. Increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curriculum, campus and community outreach programmes.

We call on governments and other education institutions to join us in declaring a Climate Emergency and back this up with actions that will help create a better future for both people and our planet. 

Read more >>>

Second Nature Resilience Commitment, Climate Commitment

On Feb. 9, 2016, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson signed Second Nature’s Climate Resilience Commitment. This makes Illinois one of the Charter Signatory campuses nationwide for Second Nature’s full Climate Commitment, which combines the Resilience Commitment with the Carbon Commitment the campus signed in 2008.

The Chancellor’s signature formally acknowledges that the effects of climate change are already felt and that universities and colleges must pursue both mitigation and adaptation to combat the unfolding crisis. The U of I campus has committed to evaluating campus vulnerabilities in its landscapes, natural resources, and energy production to a changing climate and to make an action plan that addresses those weaknesses. From that evaluation, a new resilience plan will emerge, giving steps for how campus will react to atmospheric and climate change.

Read about the Champaign County Climate Resilience Task Force, formed in April 2017 >>>

See a full news release on the commitment >>>

American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge

In November 2015, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson signed the White House Act on Climate Pledge, reiterating Illinois’ commitment to reaching carbon neutrality as soon as possible through energy efficiency projects as well as low-carbon energy generation and purchasing. The pledge also included a committment to interdisciplinary educational opportunities in sustainabilty, both inside and outside the classroom, and to actionable research that provides real-world solutions to society’s grand challenges in sustainability, energy, and the environment. View the pledge >>>


On Feb. 22, 2008, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign became a signatory to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The campus is one of more than 600 institutions of higher learning participating in this endeavor; click to read the University’s official Climate Commitment Pledge.

As concern grows about global warming and the potential effects on health, social, economic, and ecological well-being of our world, the University is a prime place to be at the forefront of battling the negative impacts associated with climate change. The University of Illinois hosts high-caliber research and experts in diverse field across campus and seeks to become a model for not only the State of Illinois, but to become a leader in these efforts nationally and globally. The ultimate goal of the ACUPCC is for campuses to go “climate neutral.” During the first year of this commitment, a greenhouse gas emissions inventory was conducted and submitted to the ACUPCC. Illinois submitted its Climate Action Plan in May 2010 (more about the plan here). This plan set aggressive goals for reaching carbon neutrality. Facilities & Services is making great progress on the operational aspects of the plan, and the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) is working to connect educators and researchers to many projects associated with the plan.

Moving forward, Illinois was required to submit updated greenhouse gas emissions inventories (first in 2012) and progress reports (first in 2013) on alternating years. As reports become available, they will be shared with the public, both on the iSEE website as well as on the ACUPCC’s website.

Illinois Campus Sustainability Compact

On Aug. 27, 2010, former University of Illinois President Michael Hogan and former Urbana-Champaign campus Chancellor and President Robert Easter joined former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn in signing the second Campus Sustainability Compact as part of the fifth annual Sustainable University Symposium. The University was the first institution to sign on to the five-year compact, committing it to continued energy and environmental improvements.

LED Campus

In 2012, the Illinois made a pledge to become the first major research university to become an LED Campus. The University has committed to make LED technology the major source of lighting. Under this pledge, all interior and exterior wayfinding fixtures will be replaced by 2025, and the majority of all campus lighting will be LED by 2050. Read more about the pledge here

Green Building/LEED Commitment

Illinois is committed to sustainable building design. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Facility Standards and Design Guidelines were recently updated to require all new construction and major renovations over $5 million be certified at a minimum Silver level building under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. 

For more details on campus LEED certification standards, visit the iCAP Portal page >>>

Natural Landscapes

There are many ways to make our landscapes more sustainable. Using native plants is one way. Reducing the amounts of fertilizers and pesticides used on plantings, and mowing less often are others. You can see these sustainable methods in practice on campus. And there are several places around campus that you can visit to enjoy the beauty of native plantings, such as the Pollinatarium, the prairie plantings at the Veterinary Medicine Basic Sciences Building, the Red Oak Rain Garden, and the plantings at the Business Instructional Facility. And don’t forget to check out Allerton Park.

THE ILLINOIS PATH: Citing campus sustainability and enhancement, the Illinois Chancellor asked a graduate class to provide a strategic assessment and implementation plan for a managed natural landscape on the Military Axis, a site on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a manner consistent with the University’s mission and Master Plan. Read the Illinois Path Report. View the comments on The Illinois Path report.

Big Ten & Friends

The University of Illinois is a proud participant in the Big Ten & Friends Environmental Stewardship Group.

According to the website hosted by Michigan State, “Not only have the institutions collaborated with each other, they have brought in external speakers to stimulate discussion on how institutions can constantly improve environmental stewardship. External partners have included Dr. Paul Rowland, Executive Director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE); Jean Lupinacci, Chief of the Energy Star Commercial and Industrial Branch of the EPA Energy Star Program; Nick Travis, Director of Project Development and Investment Services; Rob McKenna, Senior Consultant of Energy Strategies, LLC; and Kevin Lyons, Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management at Rutgers University.”

Sustainability 101: Terms to Know

Check out this handy list of definitions to help you get started making the U of I campus a more sustainable model!