UW News

June 30, 2021

University of Washington releases annual update to Sustainability Action Plan

UW Sustainability

The University of Washington is announcing the steps it will take in this fiscal year, starting July 1, to reach the targets set in the UW’s Sustainability Action Plan.

The Sustainability Action Plan was adopted on July 1, 2020, and set out 10 measurable targets to be achieved over a five-year span. The UW annually evaluates progress toward these targets and determines the actions required over the upcoming year to respond to tri-campus needs.

This spring marked the first time the UW initiated the process of updating the annual actions. Faculty, students and staff from all three campuses joined employees working on the actions to determine the proper efforts for the upcoming year.

“One of the guiding principles of the Sustainability Action Plan is to center equity and inclusion in our work,” said UW Sustainability Director Claudia Frere-Anderson. “We strived to connect with a broad range of communities and stakeholders across our campuses while providing meaningful ways for everyone on campus to engage.”

The targets under the Sustainability Action Plan include areas relating to energy, transportation, food, waste, academic research, purchasing and more. For each of the 10 targets, teams identified several actions for this year. A survey, open to all members of the UW community, was completed in winter quarter and informed the decision-making process.

Actions include efforts to compile catalogs of course offerings and research projects related to sustainability, working toward creating a student sustainability resource center, exploring offsets for professional travel, electrifying the campus fleet, reducing single-use items and others.

“We are excited to launch a new action this year for reducing waste on our campus to reduce single-use disposable items. The new action was identified as a key waste prevention goal from the Sustainability Action Plan survey. Campus community feedback was a key motivator for adding this target, which furthers our work to avoid landfill waste and reduce carbon emissions,” said Liz Gignilliat, manager of UW Recycling.

Many of the teams working on the Plan actions this past year had to adjust due to the unexpected impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sustainability Action Plan and actions for the first year were largely drafted before the pandemic response. The shift to primarily virtual instruction and work at the UW also made it difficult to measure progress in areas where the reduced population on campus affected data, such as reduced energy use and travel.

“I am proud of how our teams working on sustainability efforts responded and adapted to the challenges of this past year,” UW Facilities Vice President Lou Cariello said. “We have continued our progress, and our teams have been finding innovative ways to ensure we build on what we have learned over this year to further advance sustainability.”

One target impacted by the pandemic was the goal to reduce professional air travel. This past year, such travel was down more than 60% due to restrictions. This upcoming year, the UW will build on the lessons learned from the past year, making information about professional travel more accessible to departments, developing suggested policies for encouraging videoconferencing and creating offset programs.

“Professional air travel is a key sustainability issue in an academic context because it touches so many different individuals in quite varied ways. It is deeply intertwined with core academic values and behaviors, including collegiality, communication and consensus-building,” said Gary Handwerk, director of the UW Program on the Environment and professor in the Department of English. “Failing to address its impact, moreover, could easily undo much of the progress we are making in other areas. We can’t afford to leave it off to the side.”

The full Sustainability Action Plan document is available on the plan website green.uw.edu/plan. Data and metrics on the UW’s sustainability efforts and status updates are posted to the Plan Dashboard on the UW Sustainability site.

Students, faculty and staff interested in learning more about the Plan and how they can be a part of next year’s planning process can email sustainabilityplan@uw.edu.