The U.S. Department of Education announced today that the University of Georgia (UGA) is among the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. 

UGA was nominated for this distinction by the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education for exemplary performance in sustainability teaching and practicing. 

Inspired leaders, resilient communities and thriving natural systems… that’s UGA’s commitment. The University of Georgia is improving the world and addressing grand global challenges through better local solutions. Sustainability research, education, service and campus operations are hallmarks woven throughout UGA’s 2020 Strategic Plan and there has been marked progress toward realizing those goals.

For UGA, a public land and sea grant university, stewardship of natural resources and advancing campus sustainability are of strategic importance. The institution is currently using 31 percent less water per square foot than in 2007, with the goal of a 40 percent or greater reduction by 2020. To improve water quality on campus and beyond, more than 75 rain gardens and 16 cisterns for rain and condensate water harvesting and reuse have been installed on UGA’s Athens campus.

UGA has exceeded the Georgia Governor’s Energy Challenge, and currently is using 20 percent less energy per square foot than in 2007, with a goal of 25 percent or greater reduction by 2020. Infrastructure improvements from centralized chillers at district energy plants to steam pit insulation and LED lighting retrofits also have led to energy savings and reduced costs, and UGA has installed more than one megawatt of renewable solar energy on its main campus. Similarly, the university is striving to reduce the amount of waste sent to local landfills by 65 percent by 2020. With a long way to go to reach this ambitious target, UGA is making progress by providing infrastructure that makes it just as easy to recycle materials on campus as it is to throw them away, and by composting all organic materials from every dining hall.

Because UGA operates the largest campus transit system in the country, with over 11 million annual riders, the university plans to convert one-third of its buses to all-electric vehicles beginning in 2017, significantly reducing tailpipe emissions, maintenance and operating costs. Overall, UGA has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than eight percent since 2010. These initiatives and others are helping the University to be a better neighbor and responsible steward of natural and financial resources.

The university also is deeply committed to the health and well-being of students, faculty, staff and visitors. Infrastructure, planning, and design initiatives, as well as health and wellness programs, create healthy interior and exterior environments and opportunities for personal wellness. The entire UGA Athens campus is designated an arboretum and a Tree Campus USA. In the last two decades, more than 60 acres of new green space have replaced previously paved areas to create an increasingly pedestrian-friendly and ecologically functional landscape. UGA is designated a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly University with over 16 miles of bike lanes, trails, and shared use paths on campus and over 850 participants in the Bulldog Bikes bike share program. The campus is tobacco-free, and the decommissioning of UGA’s only coal-fired boiler in 2015 has further contributed to healthy outdoor air throughout the community. Campus buildings are maintained through a certified green cleaning program to provide healthy interior environments for all occupants. Approximately 20 percent of all food items sold by UGA Food Services come from Georgia or bordering states, and healthy, nutritious options are available at every meal in every dining hall.

UGA students are directly involved in growing and providing wholesome foods to community members in need through the student-run UGArden Education & Demonstration Farm and the UGA Campus Kitchen. The Be Well UGA program promotes emotional, intellectual, physical, environmental, social, and spiritual well-being for all at UGA. Numerous programs and services are available to students experiencing challenging situations, such as EMBARK UGA, which is geared toward increasing college access and retention for youth who have experienced foster care or homelessness; the UGA Student Food Pantry and Hygiene Closet; and the reCYCLE program, which provides refurbished bicycles free of charge to students and staff in need of affordable transportation options. UGA’s Work/Life Balance program provides a central location for relevant services and opportunities to assist faculty and staff in managing life’s challenges, from workplace stress to caring for family members. In addition, UGA Recreational Sports promotes healthy lifestyle choices by providing development, growth, and education for the campus and local community, including engaging outdoor recreation trips and clinics.

With a school motto that reads “to teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things," education and innovation are central to UGA’s mission. UGA is committed to solving grand challenges for Georgia, the United States, and the world, as well as to training students who are capable of solving real-world, multifaceted problems with no simple solutions. All undergraduate students must satisfy the Environmental Awareness Requirement, including a basic understanding of the interactions between human activity and the environment at local, regional, or global scales. All students also must engage in at least one experiential learning activity that enhances learning and positions them for success after graduation. In addition to numerous graduate and undergraduate degree programs related to sustainability, the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Sustainability provides students with a foundation in the principles and practice of social, environmental, and economic sustainability, as well as a valued credential to enhance their competitiveness in the job market.

Overall, UGA offers more than 615 sustainability-related courses, as well as faculty resources to promote integration of sustainability across the curriculum. The Office of Sustainability Student Internship Program provides experiential learning, leadership, and professional development while having a positive and tangible effect on the UGA and Athens communities. Since 2010, the Office of Sustainability has provided over 250 internship opportunities to students in 62 different degree programs for a total of over 31,000 hours of service. The Office of Sustainability also has provided $210,000 in campus sustainability grants to fund 58 student-led projects, many of which are now ongoing operational and experiential learning programs. Overall in 2015, UGA researchers received over $185 million in external research funding to solve grand challenges related to sustainable agriculture, water resources, bioenergy, waste reduction, public health, and much more. Current sustainability-focused research at UGA includes, but is not limited to, developing drought-tolerant sorghum that enhances cereal food crops, creating compostable plastic packaging from plants, understanding drivers in outbreaks of infectious disease and understanding threats posed by the Zika virus.

“Taken together, the institution’s accomplishments point to a thoughtful and coordinated commitment to the effective stewardship of our resources and to the advancement of campus sustainability,” said University of Georgia President Jere W. Morehead. “Although the University has opportunities for improvement, I hope each member of the UGA community shares a collective sense of pride in where we are as an institution right now and in the direction we are moving to protect and enhance the educational environment at the University of Georgia and beyond.”

For more information on sustainability initiatives at the University of Georgia, see

About the Green Ribbon Schools program

The aim of U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools is to inspire schools, districts and Institutions of Higher Education to strive for 21st century excellence by highlighting promising practices and resources that all can employ. Across the country, 45 schools, nine districts, and nine postsecondary institutions are being honored for their innovative efforts to reduce environmental impact and utility costs, improve health and wellness, and ensure effective sustainability education. 

The honorees were named from a pool of candidates nominated by 28 states and the Department of Defense Department of Education Activity. The selectees include 39 public schools, including five magnet schools and one charter school, as well as six nonpublic schools. Forty-four percent of the 2017 honorees serve a disadvantaged student body and 14 percent are rural. The postsecondary honorees include three career and technical and community colleges.

The list of all selected schools, districts, colleges, and universities, as well as their nomination packages, can be found here. A report with highlights on the 63 honorees can be found here. More information on the federal recognition award can be found here. Resources for all schools to move toward the three Pillars can be found here.


Writer: Andrew Lentini, 706/542-1301,
Contact: Kevin Kirsche, 706/542-1301,