In 2002, a coalition of UC students analyzed the University’s environmental footprint. Findings showed that energy use was the single greatest environmental impact as well as a major opportunity to reduce expenses. The students demanded change and their efforts turned into a state-wide university sustainability initiative. Environmental motivation was primary in creating this grassroots movement which they began by lobbying for improved building designs and energy efficiency.
With the mantra of “think global, act local,” students took their concerns to their host universities. They desired a university wide sustainability initiative, and called for comprehensive standards that would be applied to the entire UC system, combining the best green policies. Students argued that by enacting such a policy the University of California would make itself a leader in campus sustainability
Through the fall of 2002, UC students ran an aggressive grassroots campaign. Under the “UC Go Solar” mantra, students rallied support for their campaign demands. The UC President received thousands of student signatures on postcards, hundreds of faculty letters, and endorsements of a number of key state political leaders. Students also attended Board of Regent meetings as well as staged “call-ins” to the President’s office, to voice their opinions.
Determination and perseverance delivered an effective political message and placed heavy political pressure on the university. In December 2002, the Board of Regents approved a proposal requesting the Office of the President perform feasibility studies by May 2003. A high level Steering Committee and a staff level Working Group were formed to conduct the feasibility students and develop a policy recommendation.
Through the process of developing the feasibility studies, administrators and staff on the Steering Committee and Working Group learned more about the technologies and economics of what the students were asking for and appeared to become converted to the possibilities for moving UC toward green building and clean energy practices. A growing collaboration was cultivated between students, faculty, staff and administration and was exemplified when the feasibility studies and recommendations were passed unanimously by the UC Board of Regents in the summer of 2003.
Today, students continue to push the University of California to fulfill its role as a sustainability leader. The strength as a grassroots movement came from a bottom up approach and demonstrates the commitment and interest of students, faculty, staff, and administrators on each individual campus. Combining this with the top-down support from the UC Board of Regents has made the University of California a national leader in sustainability.