Green Campus Tour – East Side

The University of Illinois at Chicago is updating a brutalist concrete jungle to a sustainable urban oasis every day. Go out and experience our green transformations on campus. View this interactive map to virtually view all of the areas on campus that showcase a sign that describes a sustainable feature mentioned below.

Play the UIC Climate Commitments Scavenger Hunt

Outdoor Tour of Sustainability at UIC

Check out our our green transformations on campus! See if you can notice improvements we made that support our UIC Climate Commitments – goals that will help us become a Carbon Neutral, a Zero Waste, Net Zero Water and Biodiverse campus by 2050. Click here for a transcript of the video.

Lecture Center Plaza (The Quad)

Students recycling #1 plastic PET in the outdoor Big belly solar compacting recycling container.

The tour begins in the Lecture Center Plaza, also known as the Quad. Here, we can see multiple BIG BELLY SOLAR COMPACTOR RECYCLING BINS. These bins were placed in outdoor areas to accommodate the large number of bottles and cans that are disposed in this Lecture Center Plaza. These BigBellies help reduce our carbon footprint because they have sensors that tell us when they are full- so we only have to send the garbage or the recycling truck when necessary. They also compact the refuse to make pick-ups very infrequent. The first eight refuse and recycling containers were funded by the UIC Sustainability Fee. And because they were able to prove to UIC how successful they are, the university purchased an additional 50 for the campus!

The bins can accept almost any material made out of glass, metal, or plastic, really. (Yogurt containers? You bet’cha!) However, UIC does not accept #6 plastic- also known as polystyrene or styrofoam. In fact, nobody accepts #6 plastic: best thing is to avoid it all together. Did you know Solo cups are made from #6 polystyrene plastic? So when you go shopping, make sure to purchase plastic cups made from #1 PET plastic- at least they can be recycled.

Monarch butterfly rests on a nodding onion plant in the lecture center plaza

You may also notice the beautiful plants in the beginning of each fall semester. The UIC Grounds Department purposely planted POLLINATOR-ATTRACTING NATIVE PLANTS like the Summer Beauty onion that are known to attract like bees and butterflies that enhance the diversity of insects that visit our campus. UIC was the first college or university in Illinois to receive the BEE CAMPUS USA designation! UIC promises to be mindful of the importance of pollinators in our landscaping.

Student Center East

remodeled dining hall in SCE

Standing in the Lecture Center Plaza and looking to the east, you will see our Student Center East. Inside is one of UIC’s All-You-Care-To-Eat dining facilities. UIC Dining Services boasts many sustainable featuresSUSTAINABLE FOOD such as using antibiotic-free dairy, sustainable seafood, reduced antibiotic poultry, fair trade coffee, and local produce!

students of the UIC Chapter of the Food Recovery Network pack up leftover food with UIC Dining staff to be donated.

UIC Dining Services partners with the FOOD RECOVERY NETWORK to help the local community and the environment by putting less food into the landfills. Since July 2014, they have shared nearly 10,000 pounds and over 5,000 meals of left-overs to homeless shelters and other community organizations.

If the food cannot be donated, like food scraps, our dining facilities will compost the scraps.  Last year, UIC collected and composted over 120 tons of food scraps! COMPOSTING is better for the environment because instead of rotting away in the landfill, producing methane, a powerful green house gas and contributor to climate change, the organic food materials decompose quickly into useable fertilizer!

Chicago Memorial Grove

A native plant-lined view looking east with a path of permeable pavement leading you to a distant image of the Sears Tower amidst the group of mature trees in the Grove.

Next, walk south to the corner of Taylor and Morgan streets and you can see how Walter Netsch originally designed this garden with its elliptical asphalt path, low granite benches, and surrounding brick wall in 1968 to match the architecture style of the rest of the campus in the late 1960’s. The new Grove design was the outcome of a collaborative process involving the Campus Master Plan implementation committee, students, and the landscape architects.  The Grove is now a friendly and distinguished entry point, inviting people to relax and interact, but still retains many of the landscape features – trees and shrubs, and the circular layout. It is commonly used as an outdoor recreation space boasting many sustainable features.

student walking on the permeable pavement in the Grove holding her umbrella during a summer rain storm

There are about 2500 SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPINGS– perennials, groundcovers and grasses- that are native or hardy in our climate were planted to minimize future maintenance and watering and reduce stormwater runoff, while providing beauty. The plants include Summer Beauty Nodding Onion, October Skies Aster, Black Eyed Susan, Fireworks Goldenrod, Blue Wonder Catmint, and Swtichgrass.

colorful trees in autumn

“The Grove” showcases only a small sample of the nearly 5,000 TREES all over campus! UIC is among the few universities that participate in the TREE CAMPUS USA program, which promotes effective tree management, campus community involvement, and nature connectivity among faculty members and students through forestry efforts. All together, UIC’s trees help sequester 70,000 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, remove nearly 3,000 pounds of air pollutants, and avoids nearly 100,000 cubic feet of stormwater each and every year, thus helping to reduce climate change impacts. Want to know the specific tree you are looking at and what benefits it can provide you? Look it up using the UIC Tree Inventory!

students sitting in the grass hanging out (Photo: Callie Lipkin)

Another sustainable feature you can see is the lighting. The old lighting fixtures were retrofitted to be LEDs which will save 12,100 kW/yr in electricity.  The carbon emissions from producing that much energy is equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestered by 6.8 acres of US Forest in one year. That is like an area of forest that is more than double the area of The Memorial Grove (about 3.2 acres)!

benches sit on top permeable pavers under giant and mature Honey Locust trees.

Other sustainable features include the 2900 sq. feet of PERMEABLE PAVING, which allows rain water to permeate directly into the ground and keeping it out of our already challenged storm sewers. A BIKE PARKING HUB was installed under the Science and Engineering Office building, allowing for sheltered parking of 70 bikes.

Ten (10) old Granite benches were salvaged and made into new benches (one was cut up for the legs). And what happened to the fence that blocked UIC from the rest surrounding community? 770 linear feet of the old iron fencing was removed and was refurbished for use at Granderson Stadium.


Divvy Station outside of the Daley Library

Walk north on Morgan street and you will pass one of many DIVVY stations on campus. UIC is proud to offer many transportation options to, from, and around campus. Besides  our public transportation options, UIC is proud of our BIKES and happy to report that we have been designated a bronze-level Bike Friendly University offering dedicated bike lanes, shower facilities, fix it stations and, as of 2013, part of the robust Chicago-based DIVVY bike sharing network.

Faculty, staff, and students are offered a discounted rate for the yearly membership and can use these DIVVYs all around town.  With 17 stations dispersed through the campus, you’ll be sure to get where you’re going quickly!

student riding a bike outside of University hall

Some cool facts about Biking at UIC:

  • Bring your Helmet to any UIC Recreation Center, and they will give you 30 minutes to clean up in the locker room.
  • If you find yourself with low tire pressure, stop by one of the following locations to borrow a Bike Pump, Repair Kit, or Use a Fix-It Station.
  • There are over 800 outdoor bike parking spaces at UIC at nearly every single building on campus.

IDEA Commons, Daley Library

students talking and studying in the library

Just east of the DIVVY station on Morgan street is the Daley Library. Inside the library, you will find the IDEA COMMONS – a student centered space designed for collaborative study, technology use and research. Sustainability is not just about things that are environmentally friendly, it’s also about the people.  Sustainability is all about breaking down silos and getting folks to be more interactive.

Collaboration is the key to the success of the IDEA Commons, maximizing learning and the social environment. It features movable furniture, white boards, wireless  computers, and printers (defaulted to black & white and double-sided printing, of course!)

UIC-branded steel water bottom sits under a water bottle refill station

Of course, the IDEA Commons was also built with efficient building systems that include LED or fluorescent lighting, air ventilation systems, and light/motion sensors. Notice, too, that the space offers filtered water bottle refilling stations, eliminating the need for 1-time use plastic bottles of water. You can also find other WATER BOTTLE FILL STATIONS in many other buildings on the east side of campus (also funded by the Sustainability Fee!)

Parking Lot 1A

stormwater drains down a sewer

Walking north near the intersection of Vernon Park Place and Morgan Street is a parking lot just west of the Behavioral Sciences Building. Usually parking lots aren’t a part of a campus tour, but this one is so cool! Parking lot 1A has POROUS CONCRETE below the parking stalls, which can reduce stormwater runoff to help prevent flooding and improve water quality of receiving water bodies like Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.

Environmental monitoring equipment has been installed for measuring rainfall, soil moisture characteristics under the permeable concrete, and the outflow from underdrains to the city sewer. These measurements of the water balance for the site will allow for assessing the long-term performance of green infrastructure, and help guide future implementations. This is all thanks to a group of UIC students that developed a stormwater master plan titled “Urban Transformations: A Phased Approach to Green Infrastructure Implementation,” and won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Campus RainWorks Challenge!

students sit at solar powered Picnic tables in parking lot 1a near BSB

The parking lot also utilizes LED lighting, and SOLAR-POWERED PICNIC TABLES so you can charge your computer or cell phone while enjoying the green space just west of the Behavioral Science Building. This project was made possible by the Sustainability Fee brought forth by a BRIGHT idea of a group of UIC students!

Green Roofs

Green roof on the ETMSW plaza area with native grasses and purple flowers

Walk across Harrison Street and you will experience a partial green roofs on the Education, Theater, Music & Social Work Building plaza area. A green roof is a structural surface covered with plants and vegetation and are more attractive than traditional roofs; they reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect (a phenomenon where cities become warmer due to dark surfaces of city infrastructure, increasing air conditioning and energy needs that produce pollution and greenhouse gases); they insulate a building and lower heating/cooling demands; and they reduce the amount of stormwater runoff by absorbing rainfall before it enters Chicago’s sewers.



aerial view of the geometrically design Behavioral Science Building

Other building that feature a green roof is the Behavioral Sciences Building (which is publicly accessible) and on the Art & Architecture Building, Academic and Residential Complex, and James J. Stukel Towers (not publicly accessible). An alternative to Green Roofs, some UIC buildings have White Roofs, usually a soy-based white painted surface with extra insulation, that save energy by reflecting the light usually absorbed on traditional rooftops. These buildings include BSB, Student Center West, Student Residence Commons, Jefferson Hall, Science & Engineering South, and the Physical Plant Building.

Geothermal Well Field

aerial view of University Hall

Walk east back to the middle of campus and you will see a large green space just east of University Hall. There is a geothermal system below that field which hosts a vertical labyrinth of pipes in 64 wells that heat and cool the air using GEOTHERMAL RENEWABLE ENERGY, in Grant, Lincoln, and Douglas Halls. As tall as University Hall is, that’s how deep the structure sits underground – nearly 350 feet!

pipes inside Grant Hall of the geothermal heat exchange. one says

This building uses a closed-loop system with sensors, heat pumps and air exchangers, taking advantage of the relatively constant earth temperatures in the well field to maintain a comfortable indoor air environment year-round. In the winter, the closed loop pipes bring up the ‘heat of the earth’. An electric compressor collects the warmth, and the building’s Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system distributes the warm air. In the summer, the process goes in reverse. The pipes draw away the indoor heat and carry it back underground.

GoLD Complex

Student walking west along permeable pavers path in the middle of Grant, Lincoln, and Douglas Halls.

Walking just south of the geothermal well field and you’ll see three beautifully renovated classroom buildings that stand out from the rest of the campus – two of which earned LEED-Gold certification.  LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is the US Green Building Council’s rating system for design, construction and maintenance of high performance, energy efficient, and green interiors, buildings, and communities. In 2010 Lincoln Hall became UIC’s first LEED-certified building, earning Gold certification and one year later Douglas Hall  earned LEED Gold certification as well!  Since then, UIC has pledged to follow LEED standards in small projects where possible and to pursue a minimum LEED Silver certification for all large capital projects.

visitors listen to a presentation about the College of Business in Douglas Hall at Open House Photo: Julie Jaidingder

LEED buildings include the full range of sustainability features found in many buildings around campus: efficient building systems that include LED or fluorescent lighting, large windows to maximize natural light; energy from renewable resources (like solar panels); water-efficient systems and landscaping, use of recycled or sustainably harvested materials for flooring and workspaces; and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and glues, improving indoor environmental quality.

Douglas Hall’s floors are made from RECYCLED RUBBER TIRES on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Both Lincoln and Douglas Halls have AUTOMATED SHADES to manage heat load. The building has a COOLING SENSOR on the roof to detect the heat load inside the buildings. Then ,the system automatically adjusts lights, cooling/heating levels, and heights of window blinds in order to regulate the building temperature.

Full, bushy plants make up the bioswale near Lincoln Hall

The south end of Lincoln Hall is especially beautiful during warmer months, when many birds and butterflies spend time in the BIOSWALE, drawn by the blooming of native prairie plants. PERMEABLE PAVERS make up the pathways weaving between Douglas Hall, Grant Hall, and Lincoln Hall, allowing water to pass underground and eventually replenish Lake Michigan. Grant Hall, Lincoln Hall and Douglas Hall also conserve water through LOW-FLOW FIXTURES and DUAL-FLUSH TOILETS in the restrooms.

solar panels on top Douglas hall

Lincoln and Douglas Halls use ON-SITE RENEWABLE ENERGY  that helps reduce our campus’ carbon footprint. The rooftops of Douglas Hall and Lincoln Hall boast a total of 469 solar panels that generate electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current (DC) electricity to provide a portion of the buildings’ electricity needs. The amount produced annually by both buildings is enough to provide electricity for almost seven average 2-bedroom apartments!

With the photovoltaics system (solar panels), there is no need to burn coal, oil, or natural gas elsewhere to produce electricity. We use a free power source, sunlight (a long-lasting source) to eliminate all direct greenhouse gas emissions related to the generation of electricity. It’s completely clean energy!

Want to see the energy they are producing right now?

Heritage Garden

students walking on campus under UIC Experience banner next to a satellite garden Photo: Julie Jaidinger

The Heritage Garden is a project of the Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change. The gardens serve as an interactive learning space to teach students about environmental and cultural sustainability. Each plant, flower, vegetable and herb has significance and relates to culture and heritage.

students catching monarch butterflies from nest to be released

Planted on the east side of Lecture Center B is the Butterfly Milkweed plant. It is native to Chicago and therefor easy to maintain and does not require extra watering. The Milkweed attracts monarch butterflies. This species of butterfly is the only known butterfly to make 2-way migrations. Each fall, thousands of monarchs travel from northern and eastern portions of North America and make their way to warmer pastures in Mexico, southern California, and Central America. What is visible here, is that butterflies are able to freely cross along lines of latitude, however, certain humans cannot. The Heritage Garden serves as a visualization of these man-made migration restrictions and hopes to emphasize the importance of immigration reform in the United States.

Did You Know...

STARS silver logo

UIC recycles more than 45% of its trash? In fact, we recycled 3,500 tons of paper, plastic, metal, and glass- just last year alone! By separating our recycling, we are able to create better products and ensure the materials are properly handled. Sure, its a little more work, but this way, we are able to save over 40,000 trees each year!

UIC is rated at the SILVER LEVEL of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™(STARS).   STARS is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has recognized that we have done very well in various categories that span the breadth of higher education sustainability: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration.

Learn more and get involved!