Frequently Asked Questions

As a student, how can I get involved with sustainability efforts on campus?

  1. Join a sustainability student group.
  2. Subscribe to the Office of Sustainability newsletter and follow us on Instagram (@green.usc).
  3. Enroll in sustainability workshops and classes.
  4. Consider majoring or minoring in Environmental Studies.

Does USC recycle?

Yes. In partnership with RecycLA, the Los Angeles municipal waste franchise initiative, USC has contracted with Republic Services to divert and dispose of our waste. The following systems are in effect:

  1. USC Housing: On-campus residents, including the USC Village, sort their waste into blue recycling bins and black mixed-waste bins in their rooms. Bins are taken to dedicated dumpsters in each residential facility’s trash enclosure. Off-campus residents separate recycling and trash.
  2. USC Administrative Offices: All USC office occupants sort their waste into blue recycling bins, black mixed-waste bins, and various e-waste receptacles. Blue and black bins are emptied daily, and the waste is deposited in the appropriate container at each office building’s external waste enclosure.
  3. Classrooms: As part of the USC Sustainability 2020 Plan, multi-stream waste separation bins are being installed in every University Park Campus building. Installation is occurring in four phases.
  4. Outdoor spaces: USC Facilities Management (FMS) is actively expanding and standardizing outdoor recycling bin placements. In November 2020, FMS installed new exterior multi-stream waste bins across USC Village and HSC’s Pappas Quad which provide access to additional recycling, compost, and liquid pour stations to enable increased waste diversion and maintain clean waste streams.
  5. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum: USC has won the Pac 12’s Zero Waste Competition several times. The Coliseum diverts more than 90 percent of the USC Trojans and Los Angeles Rams home game-day waste from local landfills through recycling and composting.
  6. Removal: All waste haulers serving USC take waste to their Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), composting facilities, and landfills.
  7. Surplus Store: USC operates a surplus store to re-sell used furniture, appliances, and much more to USC students, staff, faculty, and alumni. See the Policy Guide for proper procedures for donating, disposing, or selling obsolete items.

If my area does not have a recycling bin, how do I request one?

Send a request by email to Gina Whisenant at USC Facilities Management Services,

Does USC compost?

Yes. Parkside, EVK, and USC Village Residential Restaurants compost all pre- and post-consumer food waste. All University Village retail outlets also have composting facilities with staff at each location being trained in appropriate practices.

In winter 2020, USC Housing introduced composting to 7 residential buildings: Parkside, Webb, New North, Trojan Marks, Nemirovsky, Troy East/Troy Hall, and Cardinal ‘N Gold. Residents of these buildings can now dispose of food scraps and compostable items in bins located in their lobbies. Students can also request a compost pail for their rooms so they can collect waste and make fewer trips to the lobby compost bin. To learn more about how to participate, see the resources below:

In November 2020, Facilities Management Services installed new exterior multi-stream waste bins across USC Village and HSC’s Pappas Quad. These new waste bins provide access to compost in and around high-traffic eateries to enable increased waste diversion.

A Spring 2020 campuses-wide waste characterization revealed that 50-65% of USC’s landfill trash is food waste that could be composted. As such, USC is actively working to increase compost infrastructure across the university. By composting food waste, we divert it from landfills which minimizes our carbon footprint and detriment to the environment.

Why is the Coliseum zero waste, but not the University Park Campus?

The Coliseum is a large but controlled environment in terms of time and space that allows for optimizing waste diversion and achieving a “Zero Waste” (above 90%) diversion rate.

Here’s how it works:

Upstream in the waste process, we work with 200+ food and beverage concessionaires on a weekly basis to ensure that containers, wrappers and serviceware are compostable, and that very little foil, plastic or non-recyclable/compostable products contaminate the waste stream.

Midstream, we partner with the Coliseum’s custodial services provider to facilitate an efficient waste separation process that operates back-of-house during football games.

Downstream, the Coliseum’s waste hauler ensures that our waste separation is maintained throughout their pickup, re-sort, recycling / composting / disposal, and metrics reporting processes.

However, the most important element in the process is the patience, persistence, and dedication of the Coliseum operations management “green team.” Their commitment to on-site, hands-on management is critical for such a complex and labor-intensive operation.

Because of the waste diversion management lessons we have all learned at the Coliseum, USC Hospitality now is working to achieve zero waste in Residential Restaurants by 2020, and USC Athletics is studying the feasibility of going zero waste in Heritage Hall and the Galen Center.

Does USC use solar power?

USC operates small-scale solar installations off-campus at the Cardinal & Gold Sustainability Residence apartment building and at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island. The Wrigley lab’s solar power installation provides 20% of that lab building’s energy needs.

Solar panels began to be installed on the Galen Center roof in February 2020 and began providing clean electricity in June 2020. This solar installation can provide up to 15% of the arena’s energy use. The installation marks USC’s largest solar project to date, adding to our university solar portfolio.

Because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) prohibits large-scale solar power purchase agreements (PPAs), USC’s energy portfolio does not include large-scale solar power at this time.

Can USC install solar power equipment without a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) from LADWP?

Hypothetically, yes. However, the university has chosen not to do so for the following reasons:

  1. Without the ability to take advantage of the federal tax credit written into a typical PPA, installations could be 30% more expensive.
  2. This region of Los Angeles is zoned for density, meaning that our buildings are tall and narrow, leaving just enough roof space for each building’s infrastructure (e.g., vents, HVAC units, cell towers, etc.). Beyond determining if there is enough space for a solar system, factors such as roof age and type can dramatically increase installation costs.
  3. If, hypothetically, we could install solar power equipment on the entire roof of any of our tall and narrow buildings, it would only provide roughly 10% of that building’s total energy needs.
  4. By accepting a utility incentive for the solar system, all Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) go to LADWP which in turn may count 100% of the renewable energy and associated renewable attributes generated by the PV system.
  5. Depending on the age of a building, a new solar power installation can “un-grandfather” old building code requirements, thus requiring numerous, unrelated building system upgrades (e.g., fire, ADA, etc.).
  6. Depending on the age of a building, a building’s infrastructure (e.g., electrical) may not be able to support a solar installation, thus requiring an upgrade, which may also trigger other code-required upgrades.
  7. Parking structures are built to support the weight of the building and the vehicles parked within. Unless a solar power installation is included as part of the original building scope, a post-construction solar power equipment installation can require additional building reinforcement.

In summary and in general, under current conditions with LADWP, on-site solar power is one of the least cost-effective or energy-efficient green power solutions available to the university at this time.

How does USC Village support the university’s sustainability efforts?

  1. Energy
    1. The USC Village operates a central chilled-water and heating/hot water plant. A central plant is more energy efficient than using individual heating and cooling units for each building.
  2. Waste
    1. Green, blue, and black waste bins for composting, recycling, and landfill are installed in each USC Village residential unit, on each floor, and in breakout areas. Additional composting bins are located in all the waste collection enclosures where food prep occurs.
    2. Residents of Nemirovsky Residential College can now dispose of food scraps and compostable items in bins located in their lobbies. Students can also request a compost pail for their rooms so they can collect waste and make fewer trips to the lobby compost bin. To learn more about how to participate, see the resources below:
    3. Exterior multi-stream waste bins across USC Village provide access to compost in and around high-traffic eateries to enable increased waste diversion.
    4. To divert food waste from the landfill, the USC Village (Trader Joe’s, Village Dining), and on-campus USC Dining Services are partnered with Republic Services and Saint Francis to coordinate donation of leftover food. 
    5. Parkside, EVK, and USC Village Residential Restaurants are committed to composting pre- and post-consumer food waste, which diverts it from landfill and minimizes USC’s carbon footprint.
  3. Water
    1. Six dry wells for capturing storm water were installed under the USC Village. The 6-foot diameter, 45-65-foot deep receptacles can accommodate 100 percent of the storm water produced by an 85th Percentile 24-Hour Storm. Water from rooftops and rains flows into the wells and filters into the groundwater aquifer.
    2. “Purple Pipes” for recycled water were installed to the Village central plant for future connection. By 2025, LADWP’s Downtown Water Recycling Project is expected to connect the city’s recycled water feed to USC’s purple pipe infrastructure on the UPC campus.
    3. All USC Village buildings have their own water meters. Each retailer on the USC Village premises has a separate meter for water, gas, chilled water, and electricity to enable individual energy monitoring.
    4. To reduce heat island effect and minimize water usage, the USC Village is landscaped with drought-tolerant plants and trees in the five-building courtyards. Artificial turf is used throughout the facility’s nine courtyards and between granite cobblestones in the central plaza.
  4. Infrastructure
    1. USC Village buildings used pre-fabricated wall panels manufactured in Southern California with local, sustainable materials.
    2. Low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint was used in the building interiors.
    3. Sustainable carpet tiles are used throughout the USC Village. Replacing individual tiles creates less waste than replacing full-floor carpet.
    4. The USC Village is bike friendly. In addition to 224 spots on public parking racks, all five residential halls have secure bicycle parking for residents – providing a grand total of 1,260 bike spaces at the USC Village.

How does the USC Hotel support the university’s sustainability efforts?

The USC Hotel earned silver Green Seal certification in November, 2019. Green Seal is a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that evaluates and certifies hotels for their leadership in key evaluation categories such as waste minimization, energy conservation, water management, pollution prevention, and environmentally sensitive purchasing.

Does USC have any LEED certified buildings?

Yes. The university currently owns four LEED-certified buildings: the Tutor Campus Center (Gold), the Broad CIRM Center on the Health Sciences Campus (Gold), the Engemann Student Health Center (Certified), Fertitta Hall (Gold).  In addition, USC funded and managed the construction of the LAFD Fire Station #15 (Silver) as part of agreement with the City to replace the former Station #15 located on what is now the USC Village.

Buildings constructed by USC since those noted above meet stringent state and local regulations and codes that, coupled with campus-wide voluntary and regulated programs including Energy Conservation, Transportation, Procurement, Waste Diversion and Water Conservation, result in sustainability benefits that would meet or exceed the points required for building LEED Certification.   Consistent with a 2010 Campus Planning Committee of the Board of Trustees resolution, USC continues to take reasonable measures to minimize impacts of its operations on the environment. 

Consistent with goals and guidelines noted above, and the significant pressures on the university to find ways to be financially efficient in all aspects of its operations, USC considers LEED certification on a project by project basis.  Occasionally, project funding criteria is a consideration in support of formal LEED certification. Other times project funds can be used more effectively to enable long-term reduction of the effects of building operations on the environment through investments in enhancements to building operations, or functional benefits for its occupants, in lieu of spending on LEED certification.

In May, 2021, USC began construction on the Dr. Allen and Charlotte Ginsburg Human-Centered Computation Hall. Opening in 2023, the 116,000-square-foot facility will be USC’s first LEED-Platinum certified building.

Does USC incentivize alternative transportation?

Yes. Effective October 1, 2019, USC subsidizes 50% of the public transit costs of faculty and staff who enroll in the USC Transit Subsidy Program. The program is administered by USC Transportation, which coordinates regularly with transit partners and provides all operational support.

The transit subsidy is intended to reduce the number of single-passenger cars on the road during peak commuting hours, and is available to all USC employees in the United States, regardless of whether they work at one of the two main campuses or a satellite office. As of January 2019, the subsidy had resulted in a reduction of 174 cars
commuting to and from our campuses.

For more information, visit the Transit Subsidy Webpage and see answers to Frequently Asked Questions. To enroll in the program, fill out the Transit Subsidy Signup Form. USC Transportation’s Commuter Cost Calculator allows faculty and staff to calculate the cost savings and emissions reductions of enrolling in the Transit Subsidy Program.

Does USC provide EV chargers?

Yes. USC Transportation currently provides 138 EV charging stations across parking structures on the University Park Campus and the Health Sciences Campus.

Does USC use electric buses?

No. However, all USC Transportation buses run on alternative fuels: the fleet consists of 28 bio-fuel buses, 2 propane buses, and 1 compressed natural gas bus. Approximately 10 percent of the university’s other operational vehicles are electric.

What is the environmental impact of USC’s fountains?

The University Park Campus has 39 fountains. Fountain water use represents less than 2 percent of the university’s total annual water consumption. Each fountain runs on a schedule that is adjusted seasonally and for special events. Pumps recirculate the water, reducing the need to refill fountains regularly. All fountains are shut down over winter recess. At this time, fountains do not use recycled water as the UPC campus does not have access to recycled water from the City (recycled water = chemically treated waste water), and recycled water is not approved to be used in fountains (only irrigation and industrial water).

Does USC provide water bottle refill stations on campus?

Yes, there are 211 water bottle refill stations located across the University Park Campus and Health Sciences Campus:

What is USC doing to minimize sprinkler overspray in groundskeeping?

Sprinklers are monitored regularly for repairs or overspray. If you see a broken sprinkler or a significant over-sprayed area, please report it to FMS at 213-740-6833.

What plans are in place to reduce lawns in USC Landscaping?

About 25 percent of the University Park Campus is covered by turf. Half of that is dedicated to parks and play space. The balance is gradually being eliminated or replaced with drought-tolerant plants similar to the ones bordering many building perimeters and sidewalks on campus.

Does USC have plans to introduce native plants in landscaping?

FMS uses native and drought-tolerant plants wherever building design and the landscape environment can support them. FMS maintains a diverse mix of shrubs and trees to help prevent the spread of plant diseases and insect problems.

How do I recycle electronics?

USC Environmental Health & Safety collects e-waste at no cost. Fill out the Universal Waste Pickup Request Form to arrange service. For more information, email or call (323) 442-2200.

How is E-waste handled at USC?

  1. Percentage of IT components re-used
    • Over 50% of recycled items are able to be refurbished and redeployed by human I-T and used to help primarily low-income families gain access to computers, internet connections, and digital literacy training.
    • 5% of items are parted out while the remaining 45% are responsibly recycled.
  2. Downstream recyclers used – If items cannot be reused or “parted out,” components are sent to R2-certified Broadway Metals Recycling, Metech Recycling, or Gold n’ West Surplus (Printers only) for disassembly and raw product reclamation.
  3. Method of harvesting components – human I-T uses manual de-manufacturing for sorting and breaking down electronics. Broadway Metals and Metech Recycling have e-waste shredders that separate material for large quantity processing as well. Gold n’ West shreds printers that human I-T is unable to repurpose.

How large is USC’s sustainability program?

USC’s Office of Sustainability is comparable to peer institutions in the Pac-12 and University of California system with 5 full-time staff members.

Has USC signed on to any climate commitments?

Yes. In 2010, the Campus Planning Committee of the USC Board of Trustees cemented its commitment to sustainability with six resolutions addressing the issues of environmental degradation, energy conservation, water conservation, waste reduction, and building construction.

In March 2021, USC Athletics signed on to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Sports for Climate Action initiative. The program commits the global sports community to combat climate change through commitments and partnerships according to verified standards, including measuring, reducing, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the world’s countries endorse the goal of the UNFCCC to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.” Specifically, five principles guide the effort:

  • Undertake systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility;
  • Reduce overall climate impact;
  • Educate for climate action;
  • Promote sustainable and responsible consumption;
  • Advocate for climate action through communication.

What happens after the Sustainability 2020 Plan expires?

Throughout the 2019-2020 academic year, USC’s Office of Sustainability has worked with the Sustainability Steering Committee and campus partners to develop a proposal for our next long-range Sustainability Plan: the 2028 Plan.

How can I be more sustainable in my daily life?

  1. Make minor changes in your daily life, like taking public transportation or turning the water off while you brush your teeth. Get into the habit of being sustainable by starting small and sticking with it.
  2. Be a conscious consumer. Use your dollars to support companies or organizations that emphasize sustainability.
  3. Encourage those around you in positions of power to to prioritize sustainability, whether that’s your student leaders, your department chair, or your political representatives. Use your voice to make sustainable change wherever you can!

Who can answer additional questions about sustainability at USC?

You can reach us at