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PSPM Sustainability Team Annual Report 2020

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

This year, the Office of Sustainability grew because we were combined into the Office of Planning, Sustainability, and Project Management (PSPM) under the direction of Dave Taeyaerts, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Planning, Sustainability, and Project Management in December 2019. So our office grew from a staff of 7 to 56!

Our second big change this year was moving to mostly remote operations with the onset of COVID-19. While this has presented challenges, the Sustainability team continued to advance all its great work as described below.

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

Renovated portion of Arthington Mall, now complete with native plants.

With continued support from the sustainability team, the CCSE developed the CAIP SMART Metrics. These Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound 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.

Fifty-five members of all five CCSE subcommittees gathered together in October to discuss the CAIP Smart metrics and break out into sessions to discuss critical issues facing the execution of our plan. The members were divided into small groups to discuss the university’s response to COVID-19 and how this response might affect the CAIP progress, waste reduction, recycling growth. Topics about racial & social justice and equity, and climate change and CCSE performance were also discussed. Due to COVID-19, the Office of Planning, Sustainability, and Project Management facilitated the meeting via Zoom. Additionally, individual subcommittees or their co-chairs met 26 times during the past year.

PSPM Sustainability Team Programs Heading link

Sustainability Internship Program (SIP)

In 2020, the UIC Sustainability Team supported  student internships across a variety of university departments.  These dedicated student interns attended 11 seminars and went on 7 field trips, both in person and virtual.  They shared their internship experience in 22 posters across 2 poster presentations. This summer, our Instagram page highlighted our student interns and the steps they took to maintain their well-being and their sustainability practices while sheltering at home.

Sustainability Fee

The Sustainability Fee continued to fully fund the Heritage Garden and Sustainability Internship Programs which included 30 paid student interns during the 2020 academic year.  The Sustainability Fee also funded several student projects including: a remote Tipi Demonstration with the UIC Native American & Indigenous Student Organization, Black 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 USA by the Arbor Day Foundation in 2020  for our efforts in 2019. We expect to be awarded a Tree Campus once again for our 2020 efforts like virtual Service Learning Projects the West Campus Tree Walk, and Tree Care Plan updates thanks to SIP student Heaven Silva. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our Arbor Day Observances were cancelled. For this year’s Tree Campus USA Service Learning Project, SIP student Karen Dominguez-Apaez created a video highlighting the benefits of our campus forest by questioning: What if UIC didn’t have any trees?

Interns added to our Tree Walk repertoire by creating the West Campus Tree Walk. Participants can take the walk alone, socially distanced, or as a guided tour when it becomes safe to do so.

Tree care plan updates were drafted in 2018, reviewed and approved in 2019, and completed and announced on Arbor Day in 2020. All of the updates are now in effect.

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 have been suspended pending more normal access to the campus, 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.  Lily Zheng helped to inventory and map all of UIC’s bike racks.  Outcomes of the review process are expected in Spring, 2021.

This year, PSPM also conducted the biannual commuter survey in January and February. 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 built on the previous commuter survey conducted in 2018 in the 2020 survey. 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.

Energy Conscious Campus

In 2020, UIC had fifteen labs compete in the International Freezer Challenge, eight of which turned in scoresheets at the end of the challenge. These numbers are up from 5 sign ups and 3 submitted scoresheets from the 2019 challenge. Of the fifteen labs that signed up, eight had never competed in the challenge before; of the labs that submitted scoresheets, 5 were new participants (including the first and third place lab). Altogether, the eight participating labs saved an average of 204 kilowatt hours per day.

The publicity promotions specialist also coordinated UIC’s first virtual Energy Awareness Month. Programming took place over zoom, with partners including the Citizens Utility Board and the UIC Energy Initiative. We also filmed and produced a 5-minute video for the National Solar Tour.

Pollinator Friendly Campus/ Bee Campus USA

UIC published the Campus Pollinator Habitat Plan and trained over 50 Facilities Management employees on Integrated Pest Management techniques and how to care for native prairie garden. SIP student Megan Chrzas beautifully details the progress of the Little Prairie on the Campus in her poster this past summer.

After just 3 growing seasons, the Little Prairie on the Campus is an established prairie and should only need minimal annual maintenance to continue to thrive. SIP students created the Prairie Maintenance Guide this summer to ensure that the prairie will return beautifully year after year.

UIC was recertified as a Bee Campus USA for 2019 for our efforts, which are published on the Bee City USA website. We are attempting recertification again for our work in 2020, but need the help of the CCSE and Bee Campus USA for documentation. The full presentation from March 2020 that outlines 2019 accomplishments for recertification as well as what is needed for 2020 recertification can be viewed on Box.  Because the Arthington Mall Project will install native plants, this will satisfy the requirement to “create and enhance pollinator habitats”.

The service learning project requirement was satisfied through the Sustainability Internship Program’s weeding and seeding event in July 2020 as well as our virtual Pollinator Awareness Week event on social media June 22-26. UIC will get credit for BioS 120 and 340 as pollinator awareness courses. We also hosted a pollinator training webinar with the U of I Extension in July 2020 that will count towards continuing education. The training was directed at FM (Grounds crew) to teach them how to take care of native plants and the overall importance of pollinators. Staff reviewed information from last summer and watched an update from this year.  Still needed is educational signage. The 2 presentations and an assessment of knowledge are published on our website.

Sustainability Internship Program (SIP) student Ciara Scott and Mentor Megan Chrzas have performed continued maintenance over the summer (which didn’t begin until July due to COVID-19 restrictions). Now in its 4th year, the garden no longer requires watering. Instead, the focus of the maintenance has been concentrated on weeding and garbage cleanup. A problem that began last year and continues this year is the aggressive native plant, Anise Hyssop. Most efforts in maintaining the prairie involve removing this plant. The Prairie Garden Maintenance Guide has been updated to reflect this.Ciara Scott’s SIP 5-minute presentation beautifully describes the work done in the garden this summer and can be viewed here.


Due to COVID-19 we the events that these volunteers typically support were cancelled. However, we did host an EcoVolunteers zoom training with 7 attendees.


UIC maintained its Silver recognition in 2020. The Sustainability Team, with the assistance of our SIP STARS Intern, Matt Steinwart, have begun the collection of data for a spring submission for our triennial update. As part of the work, we will be conducting a sustainability course and research survey of our faculty this November 2020.


In 2020, the Office of Planning, Sustainability and Project Management organized monthly EcoReps webinars to nearly 200 EcoReps with topics ranging from Energy Sourcing, Earth Day Initiatives, 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 678 students, as well as a presentation to 45 orientation leaders. Dr. Klein-Banai developed a talk for TEDx-UofI Chicago Countdown Event on Climate Change.

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 54 faculty, staff, and students took advantage of that. Two staff participated in in three panels during the conference

As part of a successful pivot to a virtual Earth Day due to COVID-19-related event restrictions, the sustainability team hosted a virtual screening and subsequent panel discussion of the film “the Story of Plastic,” which convened 102 UIC faculty, students, and staff on Earth Day (April 22) to discuss how to effectively eradicate plastic from UIC’s campus. By the end of the 6-week Plastic-Free UIC campaign, 6 students and 6 employees volunteered to develop unit-level zero-waste policies for their unit, department, or student group.

Dr. Klein-Banai authored with student intern, Jose Yanez-Vargas  “Guide to Estimating Multi-modal Commuting Emissions” Article published in Sustainability: Journal of Record.

PSPM Sustainability Team's Signature Services Heading link

six SIP students and volunteers stand in front of the Little Prairie on the Campus During a prairie maintenance event in Fall 2020.

Campus Sustainability Standards

This year, design standards focused on sustainable design for the 240 acres of campus grounds. Green infrastructure was  written into  the  UIC  Building Standards  for  new  projects  and major  renovations  that  call  for  stormwater  retention for  reuse  for  irrigation  and the  use of  porous  pavers.  Other sections  include  directions  to  follow  Campus  Pollinator  Habitat  Plan  to include more  native  plants,  plants  that  flower  in different  seasons,  and  instructions to  amend  soils.   These standards also instruct  design  teams  to follow  and  adhere  to policies  in  the  Tree Care  Plan,  emphasizing  prioritizing  saving  mature  trees. Because of these standards, all  new  construction and  major  renovation  projects  completed and  planned in 2020 have incorporated  almost  all  native,  pollinator-friendly  plants  into  the  landscape  design.

We also finalized our green stormwater infrastructure plan, Urban Transformations v 2.0. Our signature stormwater and plaza renovation project, Arthington Mall, located to the south of Student Center West and connecting Jesse Brown Medical Center to the UIC College of Medicine, was substantially completed in September 2020. It includes 5,633 sq ft of rain gardens, 21,253 sq ft of native plants, and 23,295 sq ft of permeable pavement (including the small parking lot to the south of the mall. It is equipped with several real-time monitors that will evaluate the efficacy of the system in retaining stormwater on site. It is also beautifully furnished with benches, picnic tables, and a small platform that can be used for performances or leisure activities. Sustainability secured nearly half a million dollars in funding for this project from the combined support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Greater Chicago Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.

Recycling and Waste Management

Zero Waste Task Force

The work last year to analyze our waste streams is paying off. The Materials Management Plan released this summer helped create the basis for the Campus Zero Waste Task Force. Major units, colleges and departments will develop plans and set timelines for engagement, surveys, and strategies for improvement in collection operations, recycling performance, and cost efficiency. PSPM proposes a model based on the Hospital Green Team under the direction of the designee of the unit head (vice chancellor, dean, or director).

Food Recovery

In March, when students moved to remote learning and most employees were sent off campus in response to the pandemic, one essential service that we maintained was our food recovery program. Along with the Covid-19 crisis came a greater problem of food insecurity, at the same time as a big decline in food donations. Student volunteers and interns were not allowed on campus, so younger staff stepped up to maintain the collection of prepared food from the Hospital kitchen for the Franciscan House homeless shelter. Since March, we have delivered more than 11,000 pounds of main courses and side dishes. When classes resumed, the Food Recovery Network, along with our student employees, took over most of the work.

Recycling Events

Great Stuff Exchange

Our office supplies giveaway program, GSX has been a UIC tradition since 2000. PSPM collects items from departments that cannot use them anymore and makes them available for students, staff, and faculty – for free! We have 100s of 3-ring binders, hanging file folders, toner & ink cartridges, books and journals, and electronic & electrical supplies. Through GSX, UIC diverted 21 tons of materials from landfill since 2014. Because of Covid-19, we moved GSX online in 2020. We began to advertise GSX in early November and have had 58 separate requests in the following three weeks.

The LabShare program in which we collect unwanted lab supplies – mainly glassware – and offer it to students, faculty and staff at UIC has had an extraordinary year. We received and have redistributed supplies valued at $55,300 in CY2020. $51,000 was in donations of equipment from a gas fermentation lab which has no history with UIC, but was looking for an outlet for equipment that they purchased and can’t use. In addition, we helped with a clean out of a lab in the College of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology which accounts for most of the remaining $4,000 of supplies we redistributed.

Campus Electronic Recycling Collection

Despite the greatly reduced population of staff on campus, PSPM student employees held our annual event to assist departments clean out the computers, monitors, peripherals, and other electronic and electrical equipment from their closets or storerooms. Although a much reduced collection, we still recycled 265 cubic feet of equipment.

And More... Heading link

Five of the six members of the Growing Green for UIC team pose for a picture at the Illini Center in downtown Chicago.

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!

University of Illinois Foundation’s UIDEA Pitch Program

In May 2020, a team comprised of sustainability and advancement staff secured $25,000 in funding from the University of Illinois Foundation for their successful pitch of “Growing Green for UIC.” Designed to be one of the first attempts at impact-based fundraising in the University of Illinois system, “Growing Green for UIC” seeks to increase giving to sustainability-related and environmental funds at UIC. Phase one of Growing Green for UIC will be executed from February to April 20201 with a website launch and subsequent crowdfunding campaign.

Practice GreenHealth Award

The UI Health Green Team received the Emerald Award in 2020 for demonstrating superior sustainability programs, one of 75 Hospitals or Top 20% of Hospitals in PracticeGreenHealth. In addition, UIH was one of only four State University Hospital systems among mostly private Hospitals in this category. The rest of the 75 are private hospitals.