'Gold-star' campus shines on Earth Day amid shutdown

UC celebrates award-winning campus sustainability with online fun on Earth Day's 50th anniversary

While University of Cincinnati's typical Earth Day events are normally observed through engaging activities held throughout the month, UC students are shifting the usual on-campus celebrations into a world of virtual adventures.

“One of the aspects of resourceful sustainability is being able to adapt to change quickly and efficiently,” says Daniel Hart, sustainability coordinator in UC's department of Planning + Design + Construction.

“And in record time, students jumped in during the COVID-19 shutdown and turned shuttered campus events into open virtual activities for everyone, including tours of Burnet Woods and the Cincinnati Zoo, Netflix watch parties and online games with chances to win prizes — all accessed through UC Sustainability’s social media and university websites.”

Cincinnati's Burnet Woods bridge and pond with UC campus buildings in background.

A virtual tour through Burnet Woods (pictured) and the Cincinnati Zoo and a movie night that peeks inside a harmful chemical company scandal are among UC's online Earth Week events.

Throughout Earth Week, April 20-25, UC Sustainability’s social media sites will present virtual at-home events, a weeklong bingo game and chances to win prizes. Check out the UC | Sustainability Facebook page for virtual Earth Week activities and to download your bingo sheet.

Cool, virtual Earth Day activities include:

  • Monday, 6 p.m.,  Netflix watch party on Facebook viewing the documentary “The Devil We Know,” detailing DuPont's alleged decades-long cover-up of the potential harm caused by chemicals used to make popular Teflon products. Also, share your favorite sustainability-themed artwork for a chance to win prizes. Don’t forget to include #UCEarthWeek2020 when you post on social media to be entered to win.
  • Tuesday, 2 p.m., "live" tour through Burnet Woods. And share a photo from your favorite local trail while including #UCEarthWeek2020.
  • Wednesday, all day, Virtual cleanup with Clean Up Cincy by picking up litter where you are and post a photo to win a prize with #UCEarthWeek2020.
  • Thursday, 3 p.m., At-home safari with Cincinnati Zoo. Share a photo or fact about your favorite animal to win a prize and include #UCEarthWeek2020.
  • Friday, 2 p.m., Submit bingo sheets by 2 p.m. Winners are announced at 4 p.m.
Exteriors of the new Lindner College of Business (LCOB).

UC's new Carl H. Lindner College of Business has been submitted for Gold LEED certification for its enhanced green and sustainable features. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

More than a pretty face

Interior view of the new Lindner College of Business.

Natural light through sun-shaded glass walls help illuminate the interior and reduce electricity costs in UC's Carl H. Lindner College of Business. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand

Some of the great ways UC works on being green and sustainable are conserving energy and developing award-winning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings. For example the new Allied Health Center, Gardner Neuroscience facilities on East campus are LEED certified. And the new Carl H. Lindner College of Business (LCOB) building has been submitted for LEED certification in hopes of receiving gold-level status — paralleling the gold earned in 2008 by UC College of Medicine’s CARE/Crawley Center for Academic Research on East campus.

“LCOB actually has four intensive green roof systems on top of the building and a bioswale system on the western side of the building where it captures rainwater runoff,” says Hart. “Both features reduce our contribution to combined sewer overflow. So while it’s a really beautiful facility it has a lot of unique sustainable features within the design of the built space.”

LCOB, as well as the new 1819 Innovation Hub and several other buildings on campus incorporate daylighting features, which uses daylight harvesting principals via architectural means to provide natural light and reduce electricity use.

As part of UC’s geographic information system, a tree master plan maps where trees and natural vegetation strategically placed around campus buildings help effectively shade sun and block wind, adds Hart.

UC’s new Sustainability + Climate Action Plan keeps the university on track, says Hart, serving as the guiding framework for how UC continues to work toward creating a culture of viable action while building awareness and encouraging behaviors that support the university’s strategic direction called Next Lives Here.

Top-of-the-line utilities for a world-class university

Facilities Management at UC supports over 40,000 people throughout its complex service network, and the university’s utilities keep main campus, UC’s College of Medicine and several surrounding hospitals in the area humming.

“Our operations are driven by a state-of-the-art, high-efficiency, cogeneration central utility plant, making our energy resources twice as efficient as most power plants in the region,” says Mike Hofmann, director of UC’s Finance-Utilities Services. “While we maintain two plants supplying electric, steam and chilled water to main campus buildings, we are also cutting costs to our outlying campuses — maintaining a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions resulting in more than $1 million in rebates from Duke Energy over the last four years. 

“In lieu of natural gas or fossil fuels, we purchased a new green energy contract in 2019, sourcing 100% power from a more sustainable wind energy for the Clermont, UC Blue Ash, Victory Parkway and Reading campuses, as well as the 1819 Innovation Hub.”

UC students sit on back of pickup truck on main campus.

Daniel Hart, at left, and UC students hold sustainability events on and around campus all year long including bike contests, clean-up activities and green-living awareness initiatives. Photo/provided

Students pave the way

Cover of Forbes Magazine with overlay text saying, "World class utilities."

Forbes Magazine recognized the University of Cincinnati for their smart energy policy, reducing costs by $9 million annually and for being one of the world's most beautiful campuses. photo/provided

To showcase these milestones, engineering students in UC’s well-known co-op and experiential learning programs, partnering with Hofmann and UC Facilities Management, created, entered and won the national Campus Energy 2020 Student Video Contest.

“This is a testament to how the integration of UC’s ongoing green/energy efforts are impacting the lives of students,” adds Hofmann. “And the engineering students who started the Society of Environmental Engineers group are making plans to help design the layout of the future solar applications of UC’s outlying buildings.”

Sustainability as a focus has also been a key factor in the UC College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning ’s architecture program. For example fifth-year DAAP student Roger Chanin saw the value in sustainability early on while designing his path toward a career in architecture. “I think I’ll continue down the route of sustainability,” says Chanin in an interview with Venue magazine. “I got my LEED credentials because I realize there’s a lot of demand for an architect who can do sustainable design while also saving a company money.”

Several UC students sit with residents of South Cumminsville inside a school gym to discuss recycling.

Students meeting with residents of South Cumminsville to survey their opinions on recycling and find ways to improve recycling habits in the community. Photo/Carlie Trott

The breadth and diversity of students currently weaving the value of sustainable living into their majors and future career goals is growing larger every year, Hart adds. 

Students are also taking the lead in research related to recycling behaviors in different areas of Cincinnati.

“We looked at what influenced people to recycle, what restricted people, why it is important as well as some general trends to why people recycle or why not,” says Leo Readey, one of 13 UC students who surveyed the inner-city Cincinnati neighborhood of South Cumminsville and recycling habits there for a course-based senior capstone project.

“Students take behaviors, perspectives and experiences from college with them for the rest of their lives, and it’s our intention that UC can serve as a living laboratory and demonstrative framework for what a sustainable community could look like,” says Hart. “Creating a culture of sustainability begins with the way we treat one another, the way we treat the land and what we envision the world to look like.”

UC Bearcat stands on McMicken Commons ready for Clean-up Cincy.

Founded in 2015, Clean Up Cincy is Cincinnati’s largest student-lead beautification program and has grown from 350 volunteers to over 1,000. Each semester, the organization carries out multiple events and sends their volunteers to different work sites around Cincinnati to pick up trash off the streets. Photo/Brooke Lyman

Practices that impact UC’s Gold-STAR rating include:

  • UC’s Sustainability + Climate Action Plan, published in 2019, serves as the guiding framework for how UC continues to work toward enhancing a culture of sustainability and climate action.

  • UC is a member of the Cincinnati 2030 District, a four-part collective commitment to reduce building energy use, water use and transportation emissions 50% by the year 2030, and includes a Wellbeing component being developed by UC professor Amanda Webb.

  • UC’s Environmental Literacy Certificate Program is a co-curricular, not-for-credit professional certificate through the Office of Sustainability offered free to all students to demonstrate fundamental competencies in ecological principles and systems thinking.

  • UC Food Service, directed by Katie Wahlke, received a 2019 Advancements in Waste Reduction Award for their efforts in waste reduction from Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.

  • UC annually sponsors the Midwest Regional Sustainability Summit, hosting sustainability student groups from all around the country.

  • Almost a decade of composting spent coffee grounds from campus dining and cafe locations has yielded over 16 tons of compost for campus landscape fertilizer.

  • Transportation to move quickly and efficiently from one building to another or to travel out of town are located all across campus for Bearcats on the go. Check out the options. 

  • In 2019, the League of American Bicyclists awarded the University of Cincinnati's Uptown campus as one of the country's most bicycle-friendly.


Featured image at top: Panoramic aerial view of UC's campus around McMicken Commons. Photo/Jay Yocis/UC Creative + Brand

Impact Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is leading public urban universities into a new era of innovation and impact. Our faculty, staff and students are saving lives, changing outcomes and bending the future in our city's direction. Next Lives Here.

Read more #UCtheGood stories, or take a UC virtual visit and begin picturing yourself at an institution that inspires incredible stories.

Related Stories


WVXU: Health benefits and risks to recreational marijuana

December 1, 2023

The University of Cincinnati's LaTrice Montgomery joined WVXU's Cincinnati Edition to discuss the potential health benefits and harms associated with expanded cannabis access after Ohio voters approved legalizing recreational marijuana in the November election.


Local 12: New research could help treat cocaine use disorder by...

December 1, 2023

New research out of the University of Cincinnati takes a different approach to cocaine addiction. Local 12 produced a story on the study, interviewing lead researcher Andrew Norman, PhD, of the Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology at the UC College of Medicine.


Clean Earth Rovers cofounders named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list

November 30, 2023

A pair of graduates of the University of Cincinnati’s Venture Lab program were recognized as being among the top entrepreneurs in North America as part of the 2024 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Clean Earth Rovers cofounders Michael Arens and David Constantine were named to the 13th annual Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the energy category.

Debug Query for this