Blue and Gold Make Green – Sustainability Throughout Westwood and the World


n its 105-year history, UCLA has grown from being a small, Southern Branch of the University of California in then-rural Los Angeles to a sprawling 40-plus acre campus consisting of approximately 200 buildings amid one of the world’s largest cities. This growth provides UCLA with multiple environmental challenges as it welcomes an estimated half-million people to its campus each year. But with these challenges come opportunities for UCLA and its alumni to be leaders in environmental sustainability.

Nurit Katz, MBA ’08, M.P.P. ’08, UCLA’s Chief Sustainability Officer, recognizes this.

“A lot of the work that we and many of our alumni do is centered around thinking about how we can do sustainability in a smarter way?” Katz said in a recent forum at UCLA.  “There is a lot of pollution and traffic when pursuing sustainability in urban settings, and we’ve been working on these issues in L.A. and around the world.”

Katz has led this “smarter way” with the development of UCLA’s first comprehensive sustainability plan, which encourages collaboration across the leading public universities to advance sustainability through education, research, operations and community partnerships.

A notable step in achieving sustainability that both Katz and UCLA have recently taken is highlighted in UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which is “an interdisciplinary university-wide initiative aimed at applying UCLA research, expertise and education to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050 — making it the most livable, equitable, resilient, clean and healthy megacity, and an example for the world.”

Since its launch in 2013, over 250 UCLA faculty, researchers and scholars have helped bring some of the goals of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge to fruition.

“The biggest impact we have as a university is through our thought leadership, education and research,” said Katz. “But we also see our physical campus as a ‘Living Laboratory for Sustainability.’ We want to make sure that we are practicing what we teach as a lot of our work in sustainability at UCLA is about that: creating a demonstration for our region and for the world.”

One active component of being a “Living Laboratory for Sustainability” can be found on top of Parking Structure 9. A solar microgrid was recently installed there that connects solar panels to smart EV charging stations and to battery banks at the bottom of the structure. This microgrid ultimately utilizes electronic vehicles to serve as supplementary storage for the grid during peak times.

“Being able to create electric vehicle charging for students, staff and faculty while also doing cutting edge research that can translate into real policy and real programs is what we’re all about,” said Katz.

UCLA’s landscape has also been changing in light of the University’s sustainability goals…literally.

In 2022, UCLA released a landscape plan that has since transformed areas of campus that used to consist of decorative grass and repurposed them into beautiful areas filled with native plants, encouraging biodiversity to flourish in an urban setting. This plan has also taken out ivy and replaced it with a variety of pollinator plants.

“We have some amazing wildlife on our campus, including horned owls that can be seen nesting on one of our buildings,” said Katz. “Our students are also creating a hummingbird garden on campus. Sustainability is in our hands, and making these kinds of changes helps support a meaningful transformation for our faculty, staff, students and wildlife.”

Other campus changes include a state-funded decarbonization study on its cogenerate power plant, which aims to further advance the future of energy. Also, a wastewater treatment plant that will include a laboratory and research components is currently being developed.

Outside of Westwood, UCLA has been actively making a global impact on sustainability through its alumni.

One such alumna who has been leading the charge in sustainability is Jaime Nack ’98, M.P.P. ’02. Nack is the president and founder of Three Squares Inc. (TSI), an award-winning environmental consulting firm that designs sustainability into the DNA of organizations.

Since 2008, the Santa Monica-based TSI has been a global leader in developing and implementing sustainability strategies for complex, high-profile projects involving governments, corporations, investors and industry groups. The 100% woman-owned Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) firm has worked on all seven continents and communicated in 13 languages.

“ESG is a relatively recent acronym,” said Nack at the same UCLA forum last March. “However, it’s long-standing criteria, or performance criteria, for investors and other stakeholders to rate the performance of companies across three spheres Environment, Social and Governance. It's a great way to not only just look at the financial performance of companies, but also see how they are having a positive or negative impact on society, on the environment and how they govern their operations.” 

TSI carries an extensive list of clients such as United Airlines, Surf Air, Honda, Lamborghini, Nike, Louis Vuitton, Guici, Disney, Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, AEG, Live Nation, Coachella, Stagecoach, the Oscars, the Emmys, the Television Academy and the Los Angeles Marathon.

“We are truly industry agnostic as we work across competitors in a variety of industries,” said Nack. “Sustainability is a way to bridge the gap where competitors usually don't speak or don't work together. However, we're able to both work with them individually and in some cases pull them together to work together.”

Elsewhere, Nack and TSI help educate influencers and Hollywood A-List celebrities on how they can help bring awareness to climate change and other environmental issues.

“I have a relationship with the World Economic Forum and a community called Young Global Leaders,” said Nack. “Every year I co-host an Arctic expedition with a diverse group of 20 people - 50% male, 50% female - up to Greenland. We talk about how they can apply a climate-action lens to their countries and their work.”

According to Nack, her team educates attendees so that they can understand the background of climate, climate science and where it stands today. Expeditions often include journeys to glaciers like the Jakobshavn Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the world.

“We have to get there by helicopter,” said Nack. “When we land, it looks like you're landing on the moon. There are these two research pods by NASA where we can learn more about the environment and climate.”  

Reflecting on her time in Westwood, Nack, who was a two-term board member of the UCLA Alumni Association, attributes much of her success today and experience in running a company to her time as a student. During her time with USAC student government, Nack helped organize the Jazz Reggae Festival and saw it grow from a 5,000-person festival to a 30,000-person festival over three years.

“I learned a lot about how to run an operation and how to run a business,” she said. “I credit those years and those lessons learned the hard way. UCLA allowed me to learn those lessons, which have played a key role in my success today as a business owner.”

In 2011, Nack was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She also received an appointment under the Obama administration to serve on the National Women’s Business Council, an advisory council to the President and the federal government on economic issues of importance to women business owners. Currently, Nack also serves as one of former Vice President Al Gore’s presenters for The Climate Reality Project.

Despite her outstanding accomplishments, Nack ultimately knows that it will take more than herself and her firm to help achieve sustainability in Westwood and throughout the world.

“We are extremely focused on achieving sustainability,” said Nack. “You don't have to be a climate scientist, a chief sustainability officer, or the head of a consulting firm to make a difference and include sustainability in your work. That's really what we want to share. We’re very open to connecting with folks and helping them figure out ways of applying this lens to all forms of work.”

Nurit Katz summed it up best, “Ultimately, sustainability is really about thinking about our kids, our grandkids and our future, as well as the future of our institution and the future of the world.”

Learn more about how Sustainability at UCLA and Three Squares Inc. are making an impact on our campus community and around the world.

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