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ACC and UC Irvine: Innovating Sustainable Student Housing

April 22, 2024
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P3 Sustainability

Plaza Verde II is the latest all-electric community designed to cut carbon emissions.

The University of California system has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025, becoming the first major university system to accomplish this achievement. As a longtime partner of the UC system, American Campus Communities is committed to helping them meet this goal. Over the last 20 years, ACC has partnered with University of California, Irvine to master plan, develop and operate their East Campus, which resulted in six phases of on-campus communities with more than 7,600 beds. Four of these developments are LEED-certified or tracking LEED certification.The latest is Plaza Verde II, which opened in fall 2023 and is tracking LEED Gold certification.

Plaza Verde II responds to the UC system’s carbon-neutrality policy by avoiding natural gas usage—the building is all electric and also incorporates sensible energy efficiency design and operation features. Plaza Verde II brings the larger Plaza Verde community up to over 2,500 beds. All of the buildings in this phase (along with a neighboring parking garage) have rooftop photovoltaic arrays that help offset approximately 85% of the buildings’ energy consumption. The Plaza Verde community’s first phase, Plaza Verde I, is certified LEED Gold and designed to consume 72% less energy and use 50% less water than a standard building. The second phase, Plaza Verde II, consumes 74% less energy and uses 42% less water than a standard building.

“We are very proud of our ongoing partnership with American Campus Communities to create this award-winning sustainable and healthy living environment offered at affordable prices,” said Willie Banks, vice chancellor for student affairs at UCI. “This first-of-its-kind project at UCI is the start of our plans for continuous sustainable innovations moving forward.”

Prioritizing Affordability and Accessibility to Alternate Transportation


Plaza Verde II houses 1,077 residents in a mix of apartment-style floor plans made to accommodate varying student needs and budgets. It brings four-bedroom, two-bedroom and efficiency units to the market all at approximately 30 percent below market rental rates.

The community also supports using affordable transportation options, which reduce emissions and support a healthy lifestyle. Plaza Verde II is located near public transit and is within walking distance of restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and other resources. It includes significant on-site bike storage to accommodate more than 760 bikes. Plaza Verde I is also the first ACC-developed community to test electric vehicle charging stations.

When I chose UCI, one of its selling points was its dedication to clean energy and sustainability, which aligned with my values,” said Carissa Bucio, community assistant at Plaza Verde.

Designed to Conserve Natural Resources

The pre-planned Plaza Verde I infrastructure, which included vehicular and bike parking, enabled higher density for Phase II—approximately 256 beds per acre. The community’s energy-efficient design strategies include ENERGY STAR® appliances, low-flow fixtures, recessed window openings and shading devices to reduce thermal load.

Additional sustainable design and features at Plaza Verde I & II include:

  • Native, drought-tolerant landscaping with minimal turfgrass that, combined with recycled water, reduces the demand for potable water by 100%.

  • Stormwater is managed onsite through bio-retention basins before entering the offsite retention planter.

  • Design strategies to optimize human health, including superior ventilation performance, carbon monoxide monitoring, a no-smoking policy, and walk-off mats and shoe storage at all building entrances.

  • All irrigation utilizes reclaimed water from the Irvine Ranch Water District.

  • Building materials were meticulously selected to limit the impact associated with greenhouse gas emissions. Per LEED requirements, all tropical wood is either FSC-certified or reused/reclaimed.

To learn about our other sustainable communities at UCI and read more about how ACC and UCI’s partnership has dramatically reshaped the residential living experience on campus, read our Case Study.

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