Success Story: Sustainability at UCLA

Posted by on Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

The view from Hedrick Hall, looking east across the campus to downtown Los Angeles. In the foreground is Kaufman Hall (1932). Janss Steps lead up the hill to Royce Hall and Powell Library, two of UCLA's original buildings (1929).

The view from Hedrick Hall, UCLA

Nurit Katz is the Chief Sustainability Officer for UCLA. An alumni of the university and longtime resident of Los Angeles, she is a distinguished instructor and lecturer of sustainability, an active member of multiple sustainable business boards, and a member of the Path to Positive Los Angeles Leadership Circle. Katz has a long history of developing and implementing bold climate action plans, and is now focusing her efforts at making one of California’s largest campuses a sustainable one.


As I like to say, in sustainability there is no shortage of interesting problems to solve. At UCLA, with a daily population of 80,000 people, we are like a small city. One of our goals is carbon neutrality by 2025. To get there we will need our whole community engaged. One of our big challenges is how to communicate with such a large and diverse audience and how to inspire people to take action.


In our on-campus housing we engage students in an annual energy competition between the residence halls. In 2016, over 2,500 students (25% of students on the Hill) pledged to reduce their energy consumption during UCLA’s 8th Annual energy savings competition. Together the students saved 119,000 kWh of electricity or 82 tons of carbon dioxide emissions! The amount of energy saved could’ve powered 15 homes in Los Angeles for a year.

Participants in UCLA's Cool Campus Challenge Program

Participants in UCLA’s Cool Campus Challenge Program

Expanding engagement to the rest of the campus community, last year we joined the other UC campuses in a system-wide challenge called the Cool Campus Challenge. Students, staff and faculty participated in pledging actions to reduce their carbon footprint, and got points for different actions they completed. The campaign was really successful — we placed in the competition and had over 3,000 people participate. We celebrated the winning individuals and teams with pedal-powered ice cream.

As a leading research institution, we also study these issues formally through applied research related to energy and behavior change. Professor Magali Delmas from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability led a project called ENGAGE. With funding from the California Air Resource Board and the National Science Foundation, ENGAGE has equipped 120 apartments at the University of California, Los Angeles with appliance-level electric metering to experiment with real-time information displays. ENGAGE frames energy consumption feedback to optimize the psychological motivation to reduce energy use. ENGAGE investigates how real-time energy consumption feedback can be used as an effective tool for energy conservation. It applies insights from behavioral science to design optimal interventions for changing energy use behavior. It is among the largest behavioral experiments in energy conservation in the United States.

And finally, Professor Delmas and faculty from across many disciplines are collaborating through the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge with the aim of reaching 100% renewable energy, 100% locally sourced water, and enhanced ecosystem health for Los Angeles County by 2050.

Empowering Students to Track Progress on Their Own

Empowering students to track progress on their own through ENGAGE


With the Cool Campus Challenge, our annual residence hall competitions, and the ENGAGE project, a simple, user-friendly interface were important in making data accessible and motivating behavior change. Visibility of results helps, as people are often motivated by seeing their peers participate.  It also helps to have key leaders engaged and demonstrating interest in the programs.


Friendly competition and gamification can be a great engagement tool. So many people are passionate about sustainability but don’t know how they can get involved, and what an impact their individual actions can have. Through the Cool Campus Challenge, our faculty, staff, and students learned ways they could contribute to solving climate change. Being able to see actual data through dashboards in the residence hall competitions and the ENGAGE project can make those impacts more accessible and real.

The results of the ENGAGE research project showed us how different messages can resonate with different groups. Many people think that economics will always be the strongest driver, but ENGAGE found that health-related messages can sometimes be more powerful.

Path To Positive Los Angeles