CSU's Path to Create Safer and Healthier Communities in the Face of Changing Climate

In honor of Earth month, we recognize the California State University's (CSU) desire to create safer and healthier communities in the face of a changing climate. Committed to providing a high-quality and affordable education while reducing its carbon impact, the CSU adopted the statewide goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 as part of its sustainability policy revision in March 2022.

The CSU Sustainability Policy, authored in 2014, intends to position the CSU as a leader in teaching and using applied research to educate climate-literate students who are able to solve the complex environmental challenges of today's world. The March 2022 revision modernized the policy's language, aligned it with state goals, and challenged the system to actively respond to the needs of CSU students and the state of California as climate change continues and resources are impacted.

By receiving the CSU Board of Trustees' full support on the policy's revision, campus presidents were charged with developing and applying climate-conscious practices through strategic investments in on-campus renewable energy such as solar panel infrastructure, battery storage and energy-efficient technologies.

The CSU also added an internationally recognized platform as its systemwide benchmarking tool for tracking campus decisions. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) provides the public with a transparent measure for accountability to attain continuous improvement toward sustainability goals.

"The importance of our renewed commitments within our Board of Trustee's CSU Sustainability Policy is to give ourselves a timeline and roadmap to curbing our carbon reductions and providing campus leadership with a pathway to success," said Tamara Wallace, CSU's Sustainability Program Manager and managing editor of the CSU Journal of Sustainability and Climate Change. "The CSU is unified in our goals to reduce our carbon footprint, be leaders in the state and amongst our peers in higher education and support the well-being of our natural resources and the communities we serve."

In order to be carbon neutral, the CSU must continue to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon content of its purchased fuel and increase solar power generation. The revised policy calls for the elimination of new natural gas assets after 2035, aimed at giving the CSU a boost toward its carbon emissions targets. Already meeting and exceeding its goal of reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, the CSU moves toward its interim objective of reducing carbon emissions to 80% below 1990 GHG levels by 2040.

Many CSU campuses have published a climate action plan (CAP) with most setting a goal of reducing their net GHG emissions to zero by the 2045 mark. A CAP is an essential tool for assessing and reducing GHG emissions, providing innovative and in-depth methods for achieving carbon reduction targets over an extended period of time.

Some CSU campuses have set their target carbon neutrality date earlier than the systemwide goal, a handful coming in as early as 2030. Here are some projects designed to get them there:


Chico State recently broke ground on a new Behavioral and Social Sciences building. Expected to open in Fall 2024, this development will be Chico State's first net-zero building. It will house 9 departments, 22 classrooms and 5 hands-on labs in 94,000 square feet. This will be only the 3rd net-zero building at a CSU campus, as well as the largest.

In addition, Chico State has developed a PEM boiler that will provide heating capability for three campus buildings, independent of the central plant boiler. As a result, the campus will be able to heat these select buildings without needing to start up the much larger central plant, saving energy and improving efficiency. This smaller boiler will also allow the campus to utilize any excess photovoltaic power to heat these buildings, solar energy obtained by converting sunlight into electricity using a technology based on the photoelectric effect.

"Reducing carbon emissions and prioritizing climate change efforts are essential to Chico State because they help to mitigate the impacts of climate change, protect our communities, and promote social and environmental justice," said Atlas Jackmon, Chico State Sustainability Program coordinator. "Our sustainability efforts have the potential to inspire others and create a more sustainable and resilient California and beyond."

Long Beach

Cal State Long Beach plans to install high-efficiency motors, as well as upgrade the sequence of operations in their central plant by undertaking a long-term analysis to identify strategies and technologies that will dramatically reduce its use of natural gas.

Given that commuting makes up more than 60% of CSULB's carbon footprint, President Conoley's Commission on Sustainability has been exploring the feasibility of implementing a carbon-neutral commuter program that would allow commuters to voluntarily offset their personal vehicle emissions. While still in the initial stages, CSULB hopes to have a pilot program launched in the next few years.

Perhaps the crown jewel of their recent capital projects, CSULB plans to be home to the first Living Building Challenge (LBC) building in the CSU, with only a handful in the entire world. By implementing regenerative projects that have documented performance metrics of net-positive water, waste and energy over a minimum 12-month period, Hillside Gateway at CSULB is poised to pursue Certified Living status under the International Living Future Institute's (ILFI) Living Building Challenge program. 

San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is wrapping up the completion of its CAP update, reviewing its GHG inventory, and using the Climate and Energy Scenario Analysis (CESA) tool created by UC Santa Cruz to guide how they can make the biggest impact in emission reductions for the lowest cost. Once its CAP and CESA are complete, Cal Poly hopes to expand its work and research on carbon sequestration, the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide, using lands they own and manage.

"Every year our campus is exposed to increasing challenges related to climate change. Whether it is severe flooding, wildfires, heat waves, etc., these climate events have an impact on students," said Kylee Singh, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo sustainability manager. "They impact students' physical health, mental health and their ability to study. If we don't reduce our carbon emissions and prioritize climate action, then we are sending students a message that we aren't considering their well-being and future."


CSUN recently completed a campus-wide LED Lighting retrofit that replaced over 40,000 lamps. This resulted in the reduction of their GHG emissions by 2,200 MTeCO2, thus ensuring all new buildings are LEED Gold at a minimum. By electrifying 97% of the campus fleet and various operational equipment, increasing on-site photovoltaic generation, improving alternative transportation options and tripling elective vehicle (EV) chargers on campus to support the transition to EVs, CSUN continues to prioritize the reduction of carbon emissions on their campus.

To reinforce and improve their sustainability goals, as well as to apply the latest technologies to accomplish them, CSUN will be launching its second 10-year Sustainability Plan in June 2023.

"Reducing CSUN's emissions is extremely important because as a higher education institution we must lead by example," said Austin Eriksson, director of Energy & Sustainability. "It is our responsibility to show our students and community how we are responding to the global threat of climate change and hopefully by the actions our community sees us taking – they in turn become inspired to take action in their own ways." 

Learn more about the CSU's efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainability by attending a campus Earth Month event or check out the CSU's Journal of Sustainability and Climate Change.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.