Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability on the UK Campus

photo of campus trees

When we think about our mission at the University of Kentucky—to improve the lives of Kentuckians and beyond—environmental stewardship and sustainability are core parts of our legacy.

That’s why we have strengthened our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and to give our community the tools to implement more sustainable, efficient practices.

What do we mean by sustainability?

We mean that the University of Kentucky’s activities are ecologically sound, socially just, and economically viable, and that they will continue to be so for future generations. A sustainability focus also encourages the integration of these principles in curricula, research, and outreach. 

This commitment is reflected in our approach to energy use in campus buildings.

In April of this year, the University replaced the 500-watt light bulbs on the 3rd and 5th floors of W.T. Young Library with LED bulbs. Changing these high-ceiling study area light bulbs is also predicted to save the university approximately $65,000 a year and reduce carbon emissions by 1000 tons annually, equivalent to removing 214 cars from the road for a year. Our building operators will also spend much less time on lifts and ladders changing out the bulbs, reducing both disruptions to students in these areas and safety risks for our employees.

Our commitment to sustainability is also evident in many aspects of the new Gatton Student Center, a nearly 400,000-square-foot facility that preserved and integrated the 1924 Alumni Gym and the 1938 Student Union. Trees felled to make way for this facility were harvested and crafted into furniture by the UK Wood Utilization Center. Champions Kitchen is the flagship for our efforts to promote sustainable food systems, and a wide variety of locally grown or produced food items are available every day. A 20,000-gallon underground rainwater harvesting tank captures much of the rain that falls on the site to be used for irrigation. Permeable paving was used on the patios and on the new parking lot allowing even more storm water to infiltrate back to the water table. All of these features helped this building achieve a silver rating from the LEED certification program.

In addition to the Student Center, 24 LEED-certified buildings on campus optimize energy performance and proliferate sustainable designs. Fourteen of the 24 LEED buildings are new residence halls, which are approximately 60 percent more efficient than the previous buildings.

Of course, we see passion for sustainability and efficiency across our campus, particularly with our students.

I’m thankful for the Student Sustainability Council’s efforts to educate and motivate their peers about our culture of environmental stewardship. Last year, this student group, established in 2009 to oversee the Environmental Stewardship Fee, passed the $1,000,000 mark in their work to fund campus sustainability projects.

Working in partnership, we have expanded our sustainable practices over the past several years in a variety of ways, from recycling and composting, to alternative transportation.

  • UK Transportation recently launched Commute Club to promote and reward sustainable commuting choices. The rewards include discounted access to Spin, the new city-wide bikeshare program that launched last week. This recent effort adds to the variety of sustainable alternatives for commuting to campus that have been developed in support of the Transportation Master Plan. UK has been awarded Silver status as a Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists.
  • We have created specific advisory groups to oversee UK’s sustainability efforts and innovate new ways to promote going green.

And, finally, the Arbor Day Foundation has consistently acknowledged the University of Kentucky as a Tree Campus USA since 2011. This annual commitment to promote the growth of campus trees provides a plethora of environmental, recreational, and economic benefits. Our trees reduce the amount of energy our campus needs while also decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

So, next time you’re walking beneath the canopy of the 50-year-old willow oak trees near the 90, remember their crucial contribution.

These examples, among many, exhibit the innovative ways we aim to improve campus health, efficiency, and sustainability.

It’s part of our vision for how we make this special campus even better.


Eric N. Monday