Impact on Learning

Northwestern University

Project Snapshot

PROJECT: Sustainable Campus Transportation
INSTITUTION: Northwestern University
LOCATION: Evanston, IL

Northwestern University

Polaris GEM electric vehicles help in the quest to keep facilities looking great and also serve as a sustainable feature on campus that helps benefit students, faculty and staff with cleaner air.


There’s a transportation revolution taking place at world-renowned Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. It started in 2009 when Northwestern — in keeping with its commitment to sustainability — challenged facilities leaders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.

Northwestern’s facilities operations accepted and met that challenge. And today, among the bustle of more than 20,000 students, they use a fleet of 10 Polaris GEM electric vehicles to traverse the university’s 240-acres, quietly and sustainably maintaining the pristine campus.

Northwestern’s commitment to sustainability spurred them to look at replacing a number of gas-powered machines with GEM vehicles beginning in 2015. After starting with a small fleet of four, the university now is up to a fleet of 10. “Gas savings was a contributing factor,” says Samantha Kustra, procurement analyst at Northwestern University, “but decreasing greenhouse gas emissions was the real reason for moving to electric vehicles.”


The go-anywhere combination of street legal and “off-road” capability was also key factors in Kustra’s choice to go with GEM electric vehicles. The ability to drive on roads or across turf and other terrain offers flexibility not found in golf carts and other vehicle options.

Northwestern University“When we initially started looking into electric utility vehicles, two of the major requirements were that they be street legal, but also that they could be driven on lawns,” adds Kustra. “GEM gives us a zero-emissions, street-legal vehicle that allows our staff to get anywhere on campus.”

Bordering Lake Michigan north of Chicago, the climate at Northwestern ranges from hot summer days to sub-zero winter nights. Frequent travel across campus at all hours and in any weather makes automobile-like features such as an enclosed climate-controlled cabin, defrost, seat belts and exterior lighting highly desirable.

“Our employees have had positive reactions to the power steering, roomier cab and cargo space. It’s logical that the more comfortable a driver is the safer the journey, too. GEM is easy to get in and out of, and can carry all kinds of equipment and people anywhere we need to go.”


Northwestern’s GEM fleet was configured with customizable utility and storage features to meet the university’s unique needs. Students, faculty and staff are benefitting from cleaner air and a well-maintained campus. Polaris GEM is proud to be helping Northwestern run leaner and greener.

Editor’s Review

A campus with hundreds of acres of property and a commitment to sustainability — often cited by students as a determining factor in their selection of a college or university — is wise to invest in electric vehicles for its maintenance fleet. Savings are realized, carbon emissions are reduced, students have a visual affirmation of the institution’s commitment to sustainability and facilities staff have the tools they need to maintain a healthy campus for all.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .