This past October, the University of Illinois celebrated a huge landmark for campus sustainability: the signing of the 2020 Illinois Climate Action Plan! This document, known as the iCAP for short, outlines the major sustainability initiatives on campus and a plan for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The iCAP is a huge comprehensive plan; it outlines countless exciting initiatives to make the UIUC campus more sustainable and resilient for years to come. It would be impossible to list everything, but I wanted to celebrate the release of the 2020 iCAP by sharing a few campus sustainability initiatives that I find most unique and exciting!
Increasing Renewable Energy
To achieve carbon neutrality, renewable energy is a must-have. Sources like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal energy are already widely utilized around campus, but there is always room to grow. Some of the coolest projects set forth in the iCAP include building a new 54-acre solar farm and adding geothermal capabilities to several new buildings. Oh, and did I mention that we are currently the most energy efficient university in the Big Ten?
Bee Campus USA
Speaking of sustainability records in the Big Ten, the University of Illinois was the first college in the Big Ten to achieve Bee Campus USA certification. Bees and other pollinators are crucial parts of our ecosystems and this certification demonstrates UIUC’s commitment to protecting them. The university maintains pollinator friendly landscapes by planting more native plants and having low-mow zones. Additionally, several RSOs on campus (Red Bison and From the Ground Up, to name a few) work on gardening and restoration projects to further promote pollinator friendly habitats and raise awareness of the importance of pollinators in our environment.
Reducing Food Waste
Despite the setback of COVID-19, there are still some really cool food waste initiatives in place on campus this year. There are three anaerobic digesters used around campus to convert food scraps into energy. Researchers are also working on exploring ways to recycle certain types of food waste into biofuels. Beyond that, the iCAP outlines plans to increase composting on campus and raise student awareness about food waste. There’s even an RSO called Project4Less that packages up leftover food from the Ikenberry dining hall and donates it to a local food pantry.
If you’ve ever wondered how sustainability might tie into your major or interests, chances are there’s a class for that. Sustainability is a truly integral part of education at Illinois, and it continues to grow every semester. Even if sustainability doesn’t directly relate to your major, you can take classes that focus on this topic to fulfill general education requirements (or just for fun). Additionally, there is a sustainability minor program and a certificate in environmental writing. Both programs are excellent additions to any major.
Student and Community Involvement
By far my favorite thing about sustainability at UIUC is that it is always a community effort. During the iCAP writing process last year, input sessions were held every month. This ensured that students and community members could make their voices heard at every step of the way. Getting involved with sustainability initiatives as a student is also really easy. You can join RSOs, attend campus sustainability events, get involved with projects, and make your voice heard. There’s an incredibly supportive culture surrounding sustainability on campus; if you’re passionate about a particular issue or just want to learn more, you are absolutely encouraged to get involved. The iCAP is truly a community effort, and that community at UIUC is stronger than ever before.