UW News

April 20, 2023

For Earth Day, UW eyes a carbon-neutral future

UW News

The UW is taking steps to increase sustainability and reduce the university’s carbon footprint. Shown here are solar fins on the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health, a feature that helps conserve energy usage.University of Washington

For more than 50 years, the University of Washington has recognized Earth Day by engaging students, faculty and staff in a variety of activities and events aimed at creating a more sustainable future.

Over the years, the UW has been a champion for sustainable practices on campus, winning awards for recycling and reducing waste. New construction at the UW is recognized as state-of-the-art, and now campus officials are aiming to reduce the UW’s carbon emissions by improving behind-the-scenes heating, cooling and electrical systems on all three campuses.

In 2023, the UW plans to spend $3 million on energy and water conservation efforts, representing a 400% increase from the previous year, officials said. Aging equipment is being replaced, lighting exchanged and new monitoring systems installed allowing for the UW to take informed steps to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. As a result, the UW will pay less for energy and water and use those cost savings to pay for future sustainability improvements.

“As a world leader in climate research and innovation, the UW is committed to doing our part to reach a carbon-neutral future by reducing the amount of energy and water used on our own campuses,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “By focusing on innovative new construction practices, improving energy efficiency in all our existing buildings and updating parts of our core infrastructure, the UW is taking a significant step toward increasing sustainability in all our operations.”

Learn more about Earth Day activities across all three UW campuses here.


New construction at the UW is utilizing some of the most advanced sustainable building practices available, minimizing energy and water usage while maximizing space for collaborative interactions. Opened in 2021, the Hans Rosling Center for Population Health earlier this year achieved LEED Platinum, the highest standard in sustainable building practices. And when the Foster School’s Founders Hall opened last year it was the first building at the UW to be constructed of engineered wood in place of steel and concrete, and will use 70% less energy and 53% less water than a comparable facility built with conventional materials.

Meanwhile, UW Facilities has worked to improve existing buildings, some dating back more than a century. The UW resource conservation program, established in 2015, has completed more than $5 million in capital improvement projects. Most of the work involves repair, replacement and modernization of heat and cooling systems, and lighting and electrical components. Antiquated machinery is being replaced with cutting-edge building automation technologies that allow facilities engineers to better monitor and control heating and cooling systems.

“The UW takes seriously its role in the region, the state and the world,” said Lou Cariello, vice president for UW Facilities. “We are poised to evolve our physical spaces and infrastructure to meet the needs of tomorrow by implementing technologies that will reduce our carbon footprint and create a campus for the future.”

UW’s Energy Strategy lays out a plan to transform and decarbonize the energy system of the Seattle campus and help the UW meet the greenhouse gas reduction targets in its Sustainability Action Plan. Cariello and other UW Facilities officials have been sharing the plan with key stakeholders.

“Our Energy Strategy provides a roadmap for the UW to decarbonize its operations while modernizing our energy systems and adapting our infrastructure,” said Dave Woodson, executive director of Campus Energy, Utilities and Operations. “Transforming how energy is used at the UW will be a substantial effort and will require everyone’s involvement. Because the easiest and cheapest energy to be saved is that which doesn’t need to be used, even small gestures, like switching off lights and unplugging unused devices, help maintain and grow our culture of sustainability.”