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Creating the University of California’s Online Sustainability Annual Report

Changing the way you create an annual report is not easy – change is hard and the transition from a PDF to a website can be a daunting journey. Openbox9 ushered the University of California through a new process and platform with experience, creativity, and commitment to their mission in order to create an intuitive and informative sustainability annual report website.

Farewell to a PDF very few will read, and welcome to a beautiful and useful interactive website. The culture of sustainability that guides UC as they grow and operate is now brought to life through a new digital report.

Apples & Oranges

University of California - Sustainability Annual Report - Location page hero banner

Consisting of 18 locations including campuses, health systems, and laboratories, UC’s commitment to sustainability is made and carried out by each location. The website enables users to interact with data at a systemwide roll-up level, as well as at the level of each individual location. This creates a way to measure the collective progress of the whole community and see the ways each location makes an impact where they are.

As circumstances differ between each location – from geographic location, to size, to history, to resources – the larger narrative of the report provides the context needed to derive meaning from the numbers. Links between campuses and their corresponding health systems, between locations and their stories, and between the system as a whole and their individual parts creates story-telling that was not previously possible with a linear PDF report.

Openbox9 linked UC’s raw data files to interactive data visualizations. This increases user engagement with the data and provides the UC team the ability to make real-time updates when needed. The sustainability website allows users to explore specific data points, filter views for clarity, and digest information within context to make sense of the data.

The result is a more comprehensible report that can be put into action by its users: Numbers are turned into stories, linking the work of the UC community to quantifiable outcomes. Communication and digital strategy solutions allow website users with varied interests to deep dive into the information important to them within a cohesive narrative. UC is given snapshots of shareable information to promote their work and lead users to engage with the full report.

Data that Tells a Story

The University of California’s commitment to sustainability impacts not only decisions about energy sources and water use, but includes education, research, and public service priorities. Decentralized locations are aligned around a common commitment to steward resources, education, and innovation for the public good.

University of California - Sustainability Annual Report Data Visualizations

There are countless data points to quantify progress toward this commitment. We started by defining the main message and its purpose – what is the primary idea the audience needs to know, and how do they use that information? Defining the message and utility for each policy area guided our designers in choosing the best means of communication – how to most effectively show change over time, or the percentage of cost savings; how to depict steps being taken to transfer reliance from one energy source to another, or visualize the reduction in usage.

This process ensured the visual communication solutions were not merely ornamental. Visual interest was used to enhance understanding and provide utility to the various audience types who review, learn from, and use the report.


UC’s commitment to sustainability is comprehensive and influential. Openbox9 had the honor of using our experience to navigate through the process of change. The result is a sustainability annual report that engages the user and celebrates the full story of UC’s work.

University of California - Sustainability Annual Report - Stories posts

Our choices and actions have a collective impact as we live together on planet Earth. The University of California commits the choices and actions of their community to creating a more sustainable environment. Their sustainability annual report website shows off their work and impact, inspiring us all to take action for a sustainable future.

Claire Kennedy headshot
Claire Kennedy
Claire values context, creativity, and joy. She uses these skills to help causes invest in the good of others.