The University of 2050/The Sustainable Campus



At the university of 2050, the physical campus - the academic buildings, the residences, and the dining halls - will be adapted to better serve the students of 2050 sustainably. The following provides a desirable, feasible, and credible prediction of what this future looks like.

Academic Buildings


Academic buildings at any university have a significant impact on the electricity, water, waste production, air quality, and biodiversity, affecting the environment and sustainability on campus. At the University of Virginia (UVA), buildings are responsible for 95% of the University’s energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, with over 80% of water consumption. By implementing a sustainability plan spanning 2020 to 2030, UVA reduced its carbon footprint by almost 43% between 2010 and 2021.[1] The university’s sustainability plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and fossil fuel independence by 2050, while targeting a 30% reduction in water use, reactive nitrogen emissions, and waste footprint. UVA intends to achieve these goals by adhering to green building standards, including making all new buildings photovoltaic (PV) ready. UVA has required all construction or renovation projects to pursue green building or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. A building efficiency program was implemented to provide whole-building performance contracting services for facilities across Grounds using a loan fund model. A green workplace program was implemented to engage UVA employees in actions that conserve resources, save money, and advance sustainability.[2] By implementing a sustainability plan, it is feasible that by 2050, most universities should be carbon neutral and fossil fuel free.

It is important to note that without behavioral and cultural changes, finding sustainable options at a university may be difficult. Although there are new technologies that can decrease electricity consumption such as smart systems to regulate temperature and lighting, as a community, we must be aware of our surroundings. Education and awareness at a university is very important. Simple actions like turning lights when leaving rooms, unplugging devices, and using natural light when possible should be encouraged. By 2050, this should be the norm. Managing HVAC Systems will be essential in 2050. Students and faculty should be encouraged to only use natural ventilation. Closing blinds during hot days and opening windows can reduce reliance on heating and cooling systems. More behavioral changes like using stairs instead of elevators can contribute to energy savings.

Installing solar panels on all new and old buildings can improve sustainability by generating renewable energy. Solar panel installations can serve as a focal point for community engagement. In particular locations, wind energy systems can be installed on or near campuses to generate renewable energy and reduce the carbon footprint on campus. In 2050, it is expected that rooftop green spaces will be implemented on academic buildings to enhance air quality, mental health, and biodiversity for students. The University of Denver incorporated a green roof into the design of its new Community Commons building. Green roofs can help keep buildings cool, reduce building energy use, and absorb rainwater.[3]

Looking ahead to 2050, universities should be striving for change to make their campus more sustainable. By implementing practical changes like installing renewable energy systems, encouraging behavioral changes, and creating rooftop gardens, universities in 2050 should represent an environmentally conscious community.



The future of college residences involves a careful balance between comfort and sustainability. Some aspects of this future require a reluctant departure from current norms, but by 2050, many will learn to accept and embrace these changes.

The most common college residence, the dormitory, will see major changes as it's currently extremely energy intensive. Research has found that the average dorm room consumes 30.2% of its electrical energy while vacant[4]. By 2050, this issue will be addressed through the use of technology and social strategies. Occupancy and daylight sensors will be a commonality in dorm rooms as they're proven to reduce energy consumption, though it's important to note that by 2050, this technology will see improvements to ensure that it better serves the user. Some deem this technology inaccurate, but with improvements already being made, their effectiveness will only increase. A significant amount of power is drawn from appliances such as mini-fridges and microwaves that remain plugged in, but many students aren't aware of this. It will become a regular practice to provide dorm residents with access to a document detailing the many ways to live more sustainably. This will include information on energy-efficient appliance choices, promoting the use of fans over AC or a hoodie over heating, leaving outlets vacant when appropriate, sustainable laundry habits, etc. In order to persuade students to adopt these practices they will need to become more convenient than wasteful alternatives. This means that more universities will provide or offer energy-efficient appliances, dormitories will be redesigned to better suit the local climate, and those who follow these practices will be rewarded. Strategies similar to Cool Biz, a movement started by Yuriko Koike to promote dressing for hotter temperatures, will be used to encourage students to change what they're wearing before turning to the thermostat[5]. We will also see an increase in the use of social initiatives that capitalize on the competitive nature of college students to address this issue. In 2015, two colleges in Maine, Bowdoin and Colby, challenged each other to see who could further reduce energy consumption in dormitories, which resulted in saving a combined 22,536 kWh[6]. By 2050, competitions such as this will be common at universities, as well as similar social initiatives that incentivize dorm residents to cut energy consumption.

Another issue that will be addressed involves the inherently wasteful process of moving out. Every year, students move out of their dorms and discard perfectly fine appliances, furniture, and other items. This is typically due to a lack of somewhere to store them over break and/or the item only being useful in the dorm setting (shower caddy, mini-fridge, etc.). By 2050, the process of moving out will not only be significantly less wasteful but also vastly less stressful. Through the use of technology, universities will be able to connect students who plan to discard items that other students may be in need of. Through the use of social techniques and technology, the average student will be well informed of opportunities to donate items they no longer need, and if they choose to discard them, they will be informed of how to do so in a sustainable fashion. Efforts similar to this have found success at the University of Colorado Boulder, where in 2018 they managed to save about 34 tons of waste[7].



Sustainable Food Sources:


In order to achieve a more sustainable campus, university sustainability plans must align with student wishes. Many universities appease the public eye by implementing small scale gardening areas, aiming to provide volunteers and campus food banks with sufficient produce. To reach a better outcome by 2050, campuses are likely to expand gardening areas, finding space on rooftop green areas, or with sustainable landscaping. A path toward this future may begin with collaborating locally with small gardens, food banks, and organizations. The University of Massachusetts Lowell has proven its feasibility, fitting 500 square feet of gardening space inside academic buildings, utilizing space previously untouched. Not only are elevated gardens convenient, rising heat and proximity to sunlight display positive outcomes[8]. The current campus must turn away from extensive building structures and provide students with a layout that integrates natural green spaces to align with the land. By prioritizing the expansion of gardening areas, universities can create environments that meet the needs of both students and the surrounding community. Not only will student health and wellness excel, large scale gardening efforts will provide for those in need of food, with potential to increase sustainable produce that dining halls can use in everyday service.

Off-Campus Sustainability:


In 2023, reusable to-go containers have aided dining halls in their sustainability efforts, but many students dine off-campus after their freshman year. The use of reusable to-go containers benefits those in close proximity to them. To expand upon the benefits of reusable containers, campuses in 2050 may partner with local restaurants through off-campus dining services like Elevate. By offering a choice of restaurants on one app and giving incentives for using and returning containers, this collaboration can boost sustainability in college towns. To persuade students to choose sustainability over convenience, strong incentives will be to first step in changing behavior. The advantage lies in universities being responsible for distributing the containers, instead of restaurants. Universities must take on the logistical responsibility that comes with sustainability. Student’s are more inclined to opt for a reusable container if they can return it to any restaurant, rather than just the one they ordered from.

Combating Food Waste:


A typical feature of dining halls in 2023 are reusable to-go containers[9]. Campuses across the nation have provided this option for students that have sustainability in mind. As sustainability grows more popular, use of choice architecture in future dining halls may persuade students. Presenting to-go containers in different areas will eliminate a single default choice. Instead of solely offering these containers upon entrance, placing them near exits and trash cans may encourage individuals to take potential food waste home as leftovers.

University dining halls limit the “self-serve” approach to cut food waste. In theory, students don’t take more than what’s needed, but in reality, many find themselves overserved. Inspired by the success of the app, MyFitnessPal, which allows users to achieve their health goals through the input of personal data[10], dining halls in 2050 may adopt similar technology. Student’s will continue to prioritize health in the future and campuses will address this by using technology systems to personalize meals based on students’ health, diets, and fitness goals. To further reduce waste from expired goods, future dining halls can draw from the app, SuperCook, that generates recipes based on available ingredients. Implementing this tech on a larger scale in 2050, kitchen staff could ensure soon-to-expire ingredients are prioritized by creating customized recipes.


  1. "Buildings". UVA Sustainability. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  2. "2020-2030 Plan" (PDF). University of Virginia Sustainability. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  3. Atkinson, Emma (2022-10-24). "A green roof brings beauty and eco benefits to the Community Commons". University of Denver Magazine. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  4. Anderson, Kyle (2015). "Energy consumption in households while unoccupied: Evidence from dormitories". Energy and Buildings. 87: 335–341 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  5. "Cool Biz Campaign". Wikipedia. 2024-01-05. {{cite web}}: |access-date= requires |url= (help); Missing or empty |url= (help)
  6. "College Programs to Reduce Energy Consumption in Dorms". Electric Choice.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. Robinson, Celeste (2021-06-30). "Move Out Sustainably - On Campus". University of Colorado Boulder.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. "Rooftop Garden Takes Urban Agriculture to Another Level | UMass Lowell". Retrieved 2024-05-02.
  9. "Reusable To-Go Container". Ohio University. Retrieved 2023-12-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. "MyFitnessPal and UCLA Partner to Uncover the Science of Success: How and Why Users Reach Their Health and Fitness Goals". Cision Pr Newswire. 2023-03-14. Retrieved 2023-12-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)