Initiated by Chancellor George Blumenthal during spring quarter 2013, the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge commits the entire campus to achieving zero waste by 2020. Officially launched this fall, this year’s focus is waste reduction.

In choosing a specific sustainability goal each year until 2020, one issue receives the concentration of the entire campus for the year, said sustainability director Lacey Raak.

“There are things happening on all of these different topic areas, and the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge is a way to focus specific attention on one issue so we can all collaboratively rally behind this issue and have an even greater impact,” Raak said.

This year’s waste reduction campaign ultimately aids the challenge’s goal of reaching zero waste by 2020. The challenge also invests campus efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels, purchasing 20 percent sustainable food and reducing water consumption by 20 percent, all by 2020.

Though the name “zero waste” implies the campus will be entirely waste-free by 2020, zero waste primarily refers to disposing campus waste in a sustainable and environmentally conscious manner.

“Our goal is to be zero waste by 2020,” Raak said. “Zero waste means 95 percent of the waste the campus produces is being diverted, which means it’s either being composted, recycled or reused. Basically, only 5 percent of our waste is going to the actual landfill. Zero waste isn’t exactly zero, but it’s as close to zero as you can get feasibly.”

While the campaign for waste reduction just officially began, the foundational work for understanding waste disposal and content began with a 2012-13 academic year waste assessment. This assessment determined 1,369 tons of waste was sent to the landfill during this time period. Currently diverting 63.7 percent of trash waste, the assessment determined UCSC needs to divert 31.3 percent more trash in order to reach the goal of 95 percent, according to the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge’s website.

A component of waste reduction begins with awareness of purchasing products for the UCSC campus. UCSC procurement specialist Kate Cunningham sees the zero waste initiative as a chance to influence UCSC product purchasers to think more sustainably.

“This is a greater opportunity to think about zero waste before bringing the product to campus,” Cunningham said. “We have a great opportunity in procurement services to educate our campus community, or campus clients, how to think about what they’re buying and what that means to everyone else.”

As part of this waste reduction effort, the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge enacted a compost feasibility study, evaluating the potential for compost facilities.

Students and staff are currently working with a consultant in order to seek the most conducive site locations for these compost facilities, as well as determining the ultimate cost benefits of these sites, Raak said.

The Impact Awards is another first, initiated by the challenge. This potential scholarship is offered to students who have developed innovative sustainability projects during the 2013-14 academic year. This form of award capitalizes on the momentum of the challenge, Raak said.

Student-initiated projects and programs surrounding sustainability generates much of UCSC’s strong reputation in sustainable practices, and University of California students had a hand in the original sustainability guidelines procured by the UC system.

“The students were the ones who forced the president of the UC system to adopt sustainable business practices and guidelines,” Cunningham said.

Student Environmental Center member Cheslea Pack is one of the many UCSC students involved with campus sustainability practices.

Pack hopes to establish a vice presidential sustainability officer position within the Student Union Assembly (SUA). By appointing a sustainability officer after the spring 2014 election, Pack said this position could make SUA more relevant to a number of students interested in sustainability.

“Sustainability is one of the key things this campus is built on and definitely one of the defining things of this campus,” Pack said. “Like you see with the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge, it’s a priority to move forward with environmental efforts.”

Though creating a sustainability position within SUA would only require an amendment to pass, Internal Vice Chair Max Hufft said although he believes the position is attainable, he is concerned it will lack serious funding.

“If we had a larger budget, I’m sure everything would work,” Hufft said. “I’m just not sure because it’s going to be a very expensive position.”

While there are many facets to sustainability at UCSC, the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge presents students the opportunity to take a simple pledge on the challenge’s website. The pledge takes on a personal level, committing students to reduce waste in their own lives, Raak said.

“So much of sustainability is reliant upon the actions of individuals,” Raak said. “This is an opportunity to educate people about the waste issues on campus and encourage them to change their personal approach to waste and think about waste in their daily lives.”


To take the Chancellor’s Sustainability Challenge pledge, visit