Plenary talk to VerdeXchange

January 27, 2014

President Janet Napolitano gave the plenary talk at VerdeXchange in Los Angeles, CA on Jan. 27, 2014. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Aligning university research with the goals of California's climate change policymakers

Thank you, Bob.

I’m here today to talk to you about what we at the University of California have done, are doing, and what we can do in the future, to advance the cause of protecting the planet in a way that ensures a robust future for generations to come.

This is our responsibility — as members of the UC community, as Californians, as citizens of the world — a moral imperative, if you will.

Sustainability writ large is something that I and the UC chancellors, and the faculty, staff, and most importantly perhaps, the students, take very seriously. So, too, did many of our predecessors. The University of California is not starting from a dead-stop in this arena.

As an institution, UC’s footprint is massive. Ten campuses. Five medical centers. Agricultural research centers. Three national labs. Through its operations, UC has made — and will continue to make — a real difference in California in energy usage, best practices, and sustainability solutions.

Moreover, UC has long been at the forefront of global research in sustainability — or whichever word you choose to describe what fundamentally means not only making do, but also moving forward, with the resources we have, and ensuring those resources are available for future generations.

I’d like to spend a few minutes this afternoon telling you about the UC students. They have been pivotal leaders in the sustainability movement at the University of California.

A dozen or so years ago, UC students wanted to make a big change. They were energized with a sense of purpose and public service. The 2001 California energy crisis, and its fallout, loomed large in the media. Decisions about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Kyoto Protocol were playing major parts in the national conversation on climate change and the environment.

UC students looked at the world around them. They decided that now was time to heed that old mantra — “think global, act local.” First came the campaign known as “UC Go Solar.” It was time, the students demanded, for UC “to practice what it teaches.” Student governments on every UC campus passed resolutions. They called on the Board of Regents to establish a clean energy and green building policy. In 2003, the regents — unanimously — did just that.

Next, at seven UC campuses, the students charged themselves extra fees to fund sustainability efforts. Some of those campuses used that funding to establish competitive grants for sustainability programs. Others used the money for different efforts. Solar photovoltaic installations at UC Riverside. A Carbon Fund at UC Santa Cruz.

But that wasn’t all. Working with UC leadership, the students helped create the most comprehensive university sustainability policy in the United States. Food, water, waste, and procurement were the four pillars.

Essential to this was a vision of sustainability for UC. And so the students worked with university leadership to create that vision. Its target was the year 2020. Its commitments were built on the four pillars. One, zero waste. Two, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half. Three, increase sustainable food to 20% of all food purchases. And four, reduce water consumption by 20%.  

Those goals, however ambitious, have proven to be just the beginning.

So you see that the students are the engine, the heart — and the conscience — that drives sustainability at UC.

But there’s another part of the equation that’s equally critical. And that’s the research.

Every day, for decades, UC scientists — when they are not in the classroom — have kept pushing forward the envelope of knowledge.

I’m talking about researchers like Roland Winston at UC Merced. Dr. Winston has revolutionized the field of solar thermal energy. A solar collector bears his name.

For the San Joaquin Valley, solar collectors could soon provide clean energy to offset the coal and oil burned for food processing operations — a critical impact for a valley facing severe air quality challenges.

I’m talking about Jay Keasling at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Keasling is re-thinking alternative energy. He researches something called switchgrass. It’s a biofuel with incredible potential. Someday soon, switchgrass could become gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

I’m talking about Roger Bales. Dr. Bales has faculty appointments at both UC Merced and UC Berkeley. He is mapping the Sierra Nevada snowpack with wireless sensors. In so doing, he not only gives California critical information about its water supply. He is also re-shaping our understanding of mountain hydrology.

There are stories to be told on every campus.

At UCLA, faculty and student researchers launched the Zero waste campaign at Pauley Pavilion.

At UC Santa Cruz, the Provost sponsors sustainability interns. They research everything from food, to landscaping, to purchasing, all to help the campus achieve its own sustainability goals.

At UC Davis, there’s the zero net energy development called West Village. It’s the largest planned zero net energy community in the United States. On the ground floor, they’re researching batteries, conservation, water. On the floors above, faculty, students, and staff live and work side by side, in structures that make use of the green technologies being explored below.

It’s a mini-ecosystem. And the aim is to show the world that zero net energy is practical on a large scale.

At UC Santa Barbara, researchers monitor metering loads for Bren Hall, a key building for labs and lectures. This was the first double-LEED certified building in the United States. Now the Gauchos can better understand and manage energy usage not just for this building, but for others on the campus.

At UC Irvine, Smart Labs were born. Laboratories are the engines of research universities like UC. Like other engines they can use a lot of energy. But by modifying the ventilation processes alone, Smart Labs have reduced energy consumption by 50%.

UC has 143 LEED building certifications. Twenty-three of them were awarded in 2013. Our medical centers save millions of dollars a year through waste reduction and energy efficiency. Zero emissions buses drive across our campuses.  Five campuses and two medical centers have already surpassed the 2020 goal of procuring at least 20% of their food sustainably.

In other words, we are not just committed to the principles of sustainability. We’re committed to adopting our own research. UC-developed technology builds those LEED buildings.

Skylights that reduce cooling costs? A Berkeley Lab invention.

Cool roofs? Also Berkeley Lab.

Laser Lights? Okay — we’re not there just yet. But we will be soon. And when we are, it will be because of UC Santa Barbara, where researchers are in hot pursuit of new light sources that will transform the way we illuminate the world. They belong to the campus’s Solid State Lighting and Energy Center. And they’re going to make Thomas Edison’s inventions obsolete.

You see the pattern. In a sense, every single campus is a living laboratory. Faculty and student researchers are figuring out, on the ground, how to address the sustainability challenges we all face.

This is why I have announced a new, ambitious initiative:

The University of California will achieve complete carbon neutrality in university operations by 2025. We aim to be the first research university in the world to do so.

This is a big objective. What we are aiming for is for UC to become the model in all categories — from sustainability research, to bringing the fruits of that research into the world. That’s the goal.

Let me put it another way. As kids, in preschool or in kindergarten, we all spent time mixing paints. And we all learned quickly that when you mix blue and gold, you end up with green.

That’s the objective.

Now, we need all hands on deck to make this happen. We need to take aggressive action on the procurement of biogas and renewable electric power. We need to increase our energy efficiency. We need to raise the bar on managing our carbon allowances and offsets. We need to adopt even more of our own research.  

But as I told the board of regents, we are the University of California. And there is no reason we cannot lead the world in this quest. At UC, we get up every day ready to be a world leader — not only in what we teach and what we research, but in how we treat the world around us.

This does not mean, however, that our sustainability research is meant to remain confined to any one campus. Ultimately, this research is meant to improve the lives of Californians in practical and meaningful ways.

You see, since I arrived at UC, my guiding vision for the university has been that we teach for California, and we research for the world. In the context of sustainability, however, and of what we can do for the state, perhaps the formula should be turned on its head:

We are researching for California, and trying to move the state forward, finding new ways to power our cities and grow our crops, maximizing, responsibly, our precious natural resources.

And if we succeed, which we will, then we will we teach the world how to work together on these massive, interconnected environmental dilemmas. 

This is not a new path for UC, nor for the state.

Many of you know Art Rosenfeld — or at least know him by name. In the early 1970s, he led the crusade for California to pass its first efficiency regulations. He was and is one of UC’s own—a physicist at Berkeley Lab.

At the height of the energy crisis in the early 1990s, the state came to UC, as well as to other colleges and universities, with a request for them to reduce consumption. And UC campuses delivered — to the point that more than one of them was awarded one of the Governor’s Flex Your Power awards.

And so I stand here before you, today, with a less than modest proposal for our state leaders. I am asking the leadership of California to let UC be an even greater partner to the state in reaching the Governor’s sustainability goals — and beyond. Let us help you in guiding California to its rightful place as a global leader in sustainability efforts.

Some of the pieces of a partnership are already in place.

For example, there’s the Energy Efficiency Partnership between UC, the California State University, and the state’s four investor-owned utilities.

There’s the agreement between UC and the California Air Resources Board. CARB provides free carbon allowances to the university. In turn, UC invests more than the value of its allowances to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Those pieces are just a start. They are just the beginning of what could be a major partnership, one that will depend on me and the Governor becoming joined at the hip on this agenda.

Because it’s not just that operationally the university can make a difference in California through its own sustainability practices.

It’s also that UC has the experts. At a time when drought threatens our state, UC has the world’s water experts. At a time when maximizing energy resources is paramount, UC has the world’s energy efficiency experts. And don’t forget, UC has the energy of all those students — one half of whom already spend their time engaged in some form of volunteer service.

Imagine even more UC scientists performing not just basic research, the critical piece. Imagine them channeling their brain power to new applied research that identifies and tackles the environmental challenges quandaries we Californians face.

Imagine even more UC students and staff members standing up, together, to lead the sustainability charge, from Darfur to Dinuba. Imagine if that power could be concentrated on the state of California. Is there a UC Corps in the future?

In my experience, these sorts of movements are built from the bottom up. That’s how UC students built this movement at the beginning. In the end, however, state and university leaders, together, have to take the baton and run the final lap.

So let me say loud and clear that the University of California is at the track, warmed up and ready to run.

Fiat Lux, or “Let There be Light,” is the motto of the University of California. It offers a suitable grace note for ending speeches like this one. To you, today, however, let me amend it to this:

Fiat Viridis,

Or, “Let There be Green.”

Thank you.