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UC: A living laboratory for sustainability

UC’s 'gold-star' campus celebrates ongoing sustainability efforts with Earth Day events throughout April including a greenhouse plant sale, gardening and bicycle trail rides

In its second century of global academic impact, the University of Cincinnati celebrates gold level sustainability among its many international accolades.

Recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful campuses — maintaining a gold-star rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) since 2017 — UC’s picturesque charm goes beyond skin deep.

Because of ongoing efforts to conserve energy, create a more sustainable campus and develop award-winning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, UC’s campus will earn another “gold” LEED certification with the new Carl H. Lindner College of Business (LCOB) opening this fall. Previously UC College of Medicine’s CARE/Crawley Center for Academic Research had earned gold in 2008.

Currently the university has 11 buildings that are LEED certified and three more that are working toward certification.

“The University of Cincinnati has been recognized as a leader in sustainable practice, research and education,” says Daniel Hart, sustainability coordinator in UC's Department of Planning + Design + Construction. “Having published its first climate action plan in 2009, the university is currently in the process of finalizing its new climate action and sustainability plan, which will serve as a guiding framework for how the university can enhance its culture of sustainability and work towards climate action."  

The plan is anticipated to be published in May of 2019.

UC Sustainability has created a culture of viable action by building awareness and encouraging behaviors that also support the university's strategic direction called Next Lives Here.

A beautiful vertical green wall alongside UC's Langsam Library.

The student-designed green vertical wall resides alongside Langsam Library filled with perennial vegetation. Vertical walls and green roofs not only add to the aesthetic value of an architectural environment but they help absorb stormwater runoff and enhance the insulation against the elements. photo/Lisa Britton/UC Creative Services

Campus Earth Day fun

In honor of Earth Day on April 22 and the university’s eco-friendly achievements, UC’s Office of Sustainability will host events across campus during Earth Week, April 15-20, to highlight the university’s renewed commitment to increase campus sustainability and build a healthier, safer and cleaner world. 

Campuswide events will include healthy outdoor activities from gardening and tree planting to bicycle trail rides and end-of-semester waste and recycling efforts. There will also be an Earth Day greenhouse plant sale in the sixth floor hallway of Rieveschl Hall April 23-25. 

And on Friday, June 14, the UC is sponsoring the Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit, the region’s premiere conference.

“We continually look for ways to make the campus more of a living laboratory of sustainability by building new infrastructure as efficient and ecologically conscious as possible while getting the students and community involved,” Hart adds.

Woman rides her bike in front of UC's Old Chem building.

UC's campus is bicycle- and electric-scooter friendly making it a multimodal and an eco-friendly campus. photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative Services

While awarded for cutting-edge design and construction of its buildings and residence halls, UC continues to undertake ambitious sustainable transportation efforts including: bike and walkway infrastructure, multi-modal transportation options such as Zipcar, Zimride and other ride-sharing car rental services, electric vehicle charging stations, the Bearcat shuttle system and the university’s subsidized bus passes with Cincinnati Metro. 

And as a result of UC’s bike-friendly campus infrastructure and unique features such as the Bike Kitchen where students can repair their bikes and UC’s Bike Share free bike rental system, the League of American Bicycles presented UC with a bronze-level award in 2018 for its commitment to cycling and dedication to bicycle safety and accessibility.

Birds on wheels

Student stands on an electric scooter on UC's campus.

UC third-year marketing and finance student Umaize Savani helped ease traveling around campus for students, staff and faculty after negotiating to bring "Bird" electric scooters to UC Uptown. photo/Umaize Savani

If you spy a flock of students traveling around campus on “birds” you’re not seeing things. The latest sustainable craze to hit the streets are battery-powered two-wheeled scooters from the Bird company that can be rented for $1 flat rate and 28 cents per minute. 

Third-year UC marketing and finance student, Umaize Savani, saw the wingless Bird in Washington, D.C., last summer and quickly reached out to have them bring a fleet of more than 100 scooters to UC’s Uptown campus area.

“There are many advantages to using a scooter to go across campus instead of driving a car,” says Savani. “They save on parking, gas, wear and tear on your car and Bird produces zero carbon emissions. [They] can be accessed easily through an app and provide income for students who are hired to go around and collect the scooters to recharge them each day.”

And instead of walking and working up a sweat before class or a meeting, he points out how you can ride quietly on nice days and leave the scooter right there for another renter or save it there to use for the trip back.

Currently Savani is in meetings with UC’s facilities management to partner with Bird in yearly contracts that will pay the university $1 a day per Bird nested on campus. 

The income can generate new revenue to improve the infrastructure of roads and walkways on campus and potentially create student scholarships. “And a contract would allow us to monitor and control the speed of the scooters through heavy pedestrian areas via geofencing GPS technology,” he adds.

Wind energy blows green profits

Man holds a wooden plaque with energy renewal credits listed on the front.

Mike Hofmann, director of UC Finance-Utilities Services, proudly shows off UC's new renewable energy certificate acknowledging wind energy as the power source for UC's outlying campuses.

While leading in LEED building certification and carbon-free campus transportation options, UC also continues to cut energy costs and carbon emissions through the newly purchased green energy contract with AEP Energy until 2021. 

In lieu of natural gas or fossil fuels, the green energy contract sources 100 percent power from a more sustainable wind energy for the Clermont, UC Blue Ash, Victory Parkway and Reading campuses and the 1819 Innovation Hub. 

“Because all the buildings together result in a sizable amount, we were able to get a good deal on the cost, making it a more cost-efficient and eco-friendly usage of power,” says Mike Hofmann, director of UC’s Finance-Utilities Services and negotiator of the green energy contract.

“With the advent of wind energy growing all over the country it is becoming more economical to purchase wind for certain programs like our outlying buildings.”

Main campus still operates its own power plant, which feeds the East and West campuses at a better rate than wind energy right now — maintaining a 40-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions resulting in more than $900,000 in rebates from Duke Energy over the last three years, adds Hofmann. 

The university recently signed on as a member of the Cincinnati 2030 District, which is a collective commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings' energy use, water use and associated transportation emissions by 50 percent by the year 2030, says Hart.

UC’s utilities serve the needs of 3.6 million square feet of building space, so whenever possible, the ongoing green/energy efforts are integrated into the curriculum, enriching the lives of students.

Students are key

Two students stand with UC's Bearcat and a recycling can.

UC students are a strong academic and creative part of UC Sustainability's success. Here the Bearcat helps students organize recycling events.

“None of our sustainable efforts would be as strong without our student groups,” says Hofmann. “Our engineering students started the Society of Environmental Engineers group and hope to play a part in the design and layout of the solar application of the outlying buildings.”

Hofmann’s plan also includes increasing the tree population on campus to help combat carbon dioxide. While addressing the CO2 output he knows that tree foliage helps absorb the CO2 in the air while releasing oxygen back into the environment.

With the expertise of John Martini, UC landscape architect, a tree master plan called a "geographic information system" is in the works. His design will map out where all the buildings, trees and vegetation are and what kind.

“Certain trees and vegetation are best suited to help shade sun or block wind when strategically placed around buildings,” says Martini. “And we are working at enhancing the environmental benefits of tree groves across campus like the grove on Sigma Sigma Commons.”

While those trees were not intentionally spaced for the purpose of attaching hammocks, Martini says students found out serendipitously that the grove is perfect for relaxing among the trees on a sunny day.

Other state-of-the-art green technology at UC include:

  • Green roofs and vertical walls containing drought-tolerant native landscaping and water-efficient irrigation technologies that reduce potable water need for landscaping by 65 percent

  • Exterior sun shades on windows and insulated glazing that reduces heat gain inside the buildings while providing natural light to reduce electricity use

  • Bioswales in three designated areas to capture stormwater that can be reused to irrigate campus landscaping

  • The UC Residence Hall Conservation Challenge, a fun competition for most efficient energy and water usage between nine campus residence halls

  • Main campus' “green machine,” solar- and battery-powered riding lawn mower

  • More than 50 water bottle filling stations all over campus

  • Connected trash/recycle stations in buildings labeled “recycle/landfill”

  • More cost efficient and environmentally friendly salt application for snow on campus

  • Composting in campus dining facilities On the Green and MarketPointe and composting of more than 14 tons of spent coffee grounds from café locations

Move-in/move-out recycling

Recycling events to help facilitate the end-of-year move provides three separate initiatives to try to alleviate waste — diverting material from the landfill and encouraging students to donate materials.

  • First initiative, campus donation binsApril 25 - May 3 — UC Housing and Office of Sustainability partner with St. Vincent de Paul to provide bins in the lobbies in every dormitory on campus for donating materials students leave behind.


  • Second initiative, Re*Use exchange market — April 29 - May 3 — From 9 a.m.-6 p.m. each day at 270 Calhoun (grassy area east of the old University YMCA building). This drop-off and pickup “free market” helps students who live off campus donate unwanted goods and pick up other items they may want in exchange. At the end of the week all leftover items are donated to St. Vincent de Paul.


  • Third initiative, city donation bins — July (day TBA) — The Office of Sustainability and the City of Cincinnati partner to provide ways to recycle and donate materials at various locations in the neighborhood of Uptown.

Events not to miss

Keep up with UC Sustainability weekly events

More UC green programs

Red and white UC Night Ride van in front of McMicken Hall.

UC NightRide — On-demand safe transportation for students, staff and faculty within one mile of UC’s main campus, everyday, 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.; Nov. 1 to March 11 , 6 p.m.-5 a.m.

Small red car with ZipCar banner on top.

Zipcar –– a car-rental system for a students, faculty and staff members to rent a car for a personal trip or for visitors who don’t have a car on campus.

Two students reach fro food from a shelf.

UC Campus Services Food Pantry — The UC Bearcats Pantry provides free food, hygiene items, cleaning supplies and meal vouchers for campus dining halls to students with food and other insecurities.

Several bicycles are lined up against a building at UC's Bike Kitchen.

Bearcat Bike Share — located in the Bike Kitchen under Dabney Hall, students can go in and swipe their Bearcat card at the member service center and rent a bike for up to a week for free (including lock and chain).

Two men work on a bicycle in a bike shop.

UC Bike Kitchen — located under Dabney Hall at 101 W. Daniels St., is a free service to UC and the community where a trained mechanic will help you fix flat tires, brakes or gears. Hours fluctuate from semester to sem

Decorative image of a car with sunbeams in back.

Zimcar — a car-sharing system for faculty, staff and students to post an upcoming ride out-of-town for the weekend for others traveling on the same dates to split the cost of the rides.

Other campus research news

 

Featured image at the top: UC’s Zimmer rooftop garden is a green walkway to surrounding buildings and a great place for students to study, interact and enjoy good weather in the center of campus. photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative Services

Be a sustainable Bearcat

Interested in creating a more sustainable path to academic success? Apply to UC as an active and environmentally conscious undergrad or graduate Bearcat.