Your browser is unsupported

We recommend using the latest version of IE11, Edge, Chrome, Firefox or Safari.

PSPM Sustainability Team Annual Report 2021

The Sustainability Unit of the Office of Planning, Sustainability, and Project Management (PSPM) sets forth UIC’s sustainability goals. 

Chancellor's Committee on Sustainability & Energy (CCSE) Heading link

With continued support from the sustainability team, the CCSE developed the CAIP SMART Metrics. These Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound metrics provide annual milestones for 42 solutions within the seven strategies of the Climate Action Implementation Plan. The CCSE will monitor progress on these goals on a quarterly basis.

All six CCSE subcommittees gathered together in October via Zoom for an update on the CAIP Smart metrics and to highlight factors impacting the execution of our plan.  CCSE leadership reported on the progress on the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals for each of the 7 strategies and how to achieve the 43 CAIP solutions within that strategy. Though COVID-19 and lower in-person presence on campus has impacted movement on the CAIP, critical progress continues to be made.

This year, with the expiration of the current charge to the CCSE, we have taken the opportunity to adjust the institutional governance structure of the committee to ensure that requisite progress is made on the Climate Action Implementation Plan (CAIP).  The committee will be co-chaired by Dr. Cynthia Klein-Banai, Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of Sustainability, and Tom Theis, Professor, and Director, The Institute for Environmental Science and Policy. Subcommittees will continue to be co-chaired by a faculty and a staff member, membership populated by faculty, staff, and students, and each will have a PSPM staff person serving as liaisons.  Under this new structure, subcommittees will develop and recommend actions or initiatives and their implementors, perform annual evaluations of UIC’s progress in meeting CAIP SMART metrics, and identify needs or feasibility studies and the teams to carry out and guide them.

PSPM Sustainability Team Programs Heading link

Sustainability Internship Program (SIP)

In 2021, the UIC Sustainability Team supported student internships across a variety of university departments.  These dedicated student interns attended thirteen seminars and went on two field trips, both in-person and virtual.  They presented their internship experiences in thirteen posters. This summer, fifteen student interns met in a virtual seminar series to explore sustainability topics and discuss their various internship projects. They supported ongoing efforts in composting, education and outreach, sustainable transportation, and agriculture.

Sustainability Fee

The Sustainability Fee continued to fully fund the Heritage Garden and Sustainability Internship Programs which included 40 paid student interns during the 2021 academic year.  The Sustainability Fee also funded several student projects including infrastructure upgrades at Arthington Mall, Black Soldier Fly Larvae Composting pilot, Bicycle Parking, Waste Dumpster Sensor Pilot, Zero Waste Welcome Pack, Menstrual Cups, and a Puech Ikots remote education activity for UIC students.

Tree Campus USA

UIC was once again awarded a Tree Campus Higher Education by the Arbor Day Foundation for our efforts in 2020. The official announcement of the recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation came out as an UIC Official Announcement email on Arbor Day, April 27, 2021. We expect to be certified as a Tree Campus once again for our 2021 efforts like the updated and online-based tree walk available on Interested in taking a tree walk? Visit for tips on how to conduct your self-guided tree walk (in-person or online!)

Because of the new tree replacement policy UIC had in place last year, we were able to secure over $90,000 for all of the trees removed due to the OSCSC project. UIC is very grateful for this financial contribution to our tree care expenditures. We were able to invest those funds in the campus-wide tree inventory in March of 2021 plus we used the remaining 20% of the funds to invest in the health of our remaining campus tree population. Having current size and valuation for each tree specimen will help ensure we properly invest in the reforestation and ongoing maintenance of the remaining canopy. This full inventory is essential in allocating our Tree Campus expenditures effectively, as it allows our management to prioritize and strategize what is best for UIC. With an up-to-date inventory we now have a complete idea of what each tree needs to remain healthy and how to project efficiently for potential losses. With our close relationship with third-party arborists at Bartlett Tree Experts, we have the proper resources to make smart choices with allocated funding based on facts and practice in an urban setting.

The data from the tree inventory was then analyzed using the i-tree Eco model developed by the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station and analyzed by Bartlett Tree Experts. The report was converted into an infographic to communicate to the 47,000 faculty, staff and students during our Arbor Day email announcement. Through the campus-wide tree inventory, we discovered that there are 3,678 trees on campus. The most common species of tree you will find at UIC is the Thornless honey locust, representing 18% of the total inventory. Our trees cover 33.7 acres of campus and help sequester over 23 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year. 26% of our tree inventory are native to Illinois- a number we hope to increase with each tree planting.

Bicycle Friendly University

UIC reapplied to maintain and hopefully upgrade  its Silver status in the Bicycle Friendly University program  from the League of American Bicyclists.  Sustainability intern Maggie Kochman assisted with this significant effort.  Although the census counts for bicycle racks were suspended for one year, they have resumed starting fall 2021. Work continues with PSPM colleagues to expand more secure parking options.  The CCSE Transportation subcommittee has taken on the role of Bicycle Advisory Meeting convener to enable progress in bicycle programming across the campus.  Intern Sajjed Odeh helped to inventory and map all of UIC’s bike racks.

The next biannual commuter survey in will take place in January and February, 2022. In seeking to understand how different populations arrive at UIC, the university can better understand how to maximize access to and from the campus. This report considers demographic data, travel behavior, and survey respondents’ comments to help the university to support staff and student commutes.

The PSPM team will build on the previous commuter surveys conducted in 2018 and 2020. In addition to understanding mode split and commuter trends, the university is particularly interested in understanding and planning for future parking demand, as well as fulfilling our reporting requirements to third-party sustainability organizations.

Click here to view a draft copy of the report.

International Freezer Challenge

In January 2021, non-profit organizations, International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) and My Green Lab, partnered together for the fifth year in a row to run the 2021 International Laboratory Freezer Challenge, a cold storage competition for laboratories.

Because labs are one of the most energy-intensive workplaces, due to the heavy-duty equipment, the airflow requirements of the space, and the around-the-clock operations, the annual Freezer Challenge encourages researchers to take energy conscious actions with their cold storage systems.

For the 2021 Freezer Challenge, a total of 8 labs from UIC participated and saved a collective of 94kWh/day over a period of 6 months. This year’s Freezer Challenge winner from UIC is the Amynah Pradhan Lab with the highest energy saving rate of 22 kWh per day. Read all about the actions the lab took to be crowned UIC’s most energy efficient lab in 2021 here, “UIC Labs Compete in the 2021 International Freezer Challenge for the 5th time.”

Pollinator Friendly Campus/ Bee Campus USA

UIC is pursuing SITES certification for the landscape renovations at Arthington Mall which includes over 14,000 square feet of new native planting and rain gardens. The site was officially dedicated on August 27, 2021 as we welcomed new students of the medical center with a welcome back party and dedication.

UIC expects to earn certification once again as a Bee Campus USA for our efforts over the summer including a weeding and education event at Arthington Mall, performed by the U of I Extension with Master Gardeners and UIC Grounds Staff. At the training, volunteers and staff learning how to recognize invasive plants and weeds versus native plants and how to perform integrated pest management to care for the garden in a pollinator-friendly manner. Please see our recap of the day here, “Native Plant Garden Weeding Event.”


Due to COVID-19, many, but not all, of the events that these volunteers typically support were canceled. However, EcoVolunteers helped make our in-person GSX 2021 a big success, with over 600 students shopping for free school supplies.  EcoVolunteers also volunteered online by filling out surveys that helped gather valuable data on student perspectives and knowledge of sustainability, and spreading the word on our 2021 campaigns.


UIC maintained its Silver recognition in 2021 with a score of 60.32. The Sustainability Team, with the assistance of our SIP STARS Intern, Matt Steinwart, completed the data collection for a summer submission for our triennial update.  Now that the 2021 submission is complete, the work for the 2024 submission begins; we are working on identifying areas where we have the most challenges and opportunities to reach for Gold in ’24.


In 2021, the Office of Planning, Sustainability, and Project Management organized bi-minthly EcoReps webinars for our group of nearly 200 EcoReps with topics ranging from Recycling, Earth Day Initiatives, gardening, commuting, and supporting small/local business or sustainable vendors.

Presentations and Publications

The Sustainability team gave presentations at 2 external conferences (AASHE, League of Am Bicyclists, and gave  11 class presentations to 766 students, as well as a presentation to 50 orientation leaders.

This year’s AASHE Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education was held as a virtual conference. The Sustainability Team and Fee offered free registration and 97 faculty, staff, and students took advantage of that.

As part of a successful pivot to a virtual Earth Day due to COVID-19-related event restrictions, the sustainability team hosted a few successful events. Including a Crowdfunding Campaign raising $2775 in 26 days through 65 donations ranging in size from $5 to $200, with an average contribution of $39.62 and 21 attendees. An Environmental Justice through a Circular Economy Lens: April 14, 45 attendees and April 22, 51 attendees. As well as a Carbon Neutrality through Zero-Carbon Initiatives with 52 attendees.

PSPM Sustainability Team's Signature Services Heading link

Recycling and Waste Management

Campus Recycling Rate Crosses the 50% Point

By continuing our recycling efforts even after 95% of our students moved to remote learning, and a large majority of our staff to remote work, we were able to achieve a 51% Recycling Rate for Fiscal Year 2021. The biggest part of the increase in the rate of materials diverted from landfill came from the decline in overall Municipal Solid Waste, but nonetheless it is progress toward our zero waste goal.

Post-Consumer Compost Collections

The Zero Waste Task Force was established in October 2020. To achieve a zero waste campus (90% recycling rate) by 2050, we want to make annual increases of 2% every year for the rest of this decade. Our first initiative is expanding food scrap composting to more locations, and to include collections in departments and residence halls. Toward this, with the help of a student written grant to the Sustainability Fund, we are preparing a pilot program for compost bins in four buildings.

Food Recovery Network (FRN) Gets National Recognition

FRN is a student-led group which partners with sustainability, Dining Services, and UI Health kitchen staff to package leftover food. When some students were able to return to campus in August 2020, we saw the need in the community around UIC to continue recovering prepared food. In the fall of 2020, the national FRN network praised the UIC chapter for the largest collection of any school in the country: 5.12 tons, all of which was delivered to the second largest homeless shelter in Chicago, the Franciscan House.

Lab Share Program and the Circular Economy

The sustainability office has coordinated a lab supplies exchange program with UIC wet labs since 2013, and an office supplies exchange program which started 20 years ago. In FY2021 we received donations of lab and office supplies valued at $89,535, and distributed supplies to UIC labs and offices valued at $72,300.

Operational Waste Collection Efficiency

Through a student written grant from the Sustainability Fund, PSPM is purchasing Enevo sonar sensors. These will enable Transportation Services to monitor the capacity of refuse and cardboard dumpsters to avoid pick-ups when the container is less than 75% filled. This will reduce costs and greenhouse gasses.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae Compost Pilot

The Sustainability Fund granted $60,000 to a research faculty member and an undergraduate student for a large scale, 16 month vermicomposting pilot project involving Black Soldier Fly larvae, which produce a really rich compost. We supported this because our 2020 Materials Management Plan shows there could be as much as 830 tons of food scraps in our waste stream annually beyond what we have been capturing. As we move to collect more food scraps on campus, we could be spending $200,000 annually for hauling. We hope this BSF larvae program could be located near UIC to avoid those hauling costs, and the associate greenhouse gasses.

And More... Heading link

The Sustainability Team works hard to make sure we are locally and nationally recognized for the great work everyone at our university is doing. We couldn’t have done all of our accomplishments without the partnerships from all UIC units!

MWRD Green Infrastructure award; Climate Cup Challenge for Climate Adaptation winner