UNC takes steps forward in sustainability quest

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As faculty, staff and general members of the campus community gathered in the Student Union to celebrate the University’s commitment to sustainability, Chancellor Folt presided from an unusual podium: a bike. 

Although it was a somewhat unorthodox tool for giving a speech, the bike symbolized something much greater – the University will now have an official partnership with Burt’s Bees to bring ride-share bikes to campus.

This was one of many announcements that served to demonstrate the University's commitment to sustainability. Last fall, Chancellor Folt announced the Three Zeros Initiative, setting the goal of net zero water usage, zero waste to landfills and net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Three Zeros Day was the kick-off event for the initiative before the University ultimately releases a series of five-year plans, the first of which will be released in 2018.

The day’s agenda was filled with a variety of events to celebrate the Three Zeros Initiative. Fair, Local, Organic (FLO) Foods set up a farmer’s market in the Pit in the morning, which was followed by an exhibition of student and professional organizations in the Great Hall.

The day culminated with a raffle prize giveaway featuring a football signed by Larry Fedora. The keynote event was held in the Union auditorium, and featured various speakers who had worked on the initiative.

One presenter was Anna Wu, the Associate Vice Chancellor for Facility Services, who presented statistics on past accomplishments of the University’s dedication to the environment in terms of water usage, waste reduction and carbon emissions. Wu cited that partnerships with Carolina Dining Services and the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling have allowed the campus to approach the standard of zero waste to landfills.

“You’ll see another trend,” Wu said. “The campus has continued to grow, but our diversion of waste to the landfill has remained fairly consistent. And in this past year, we were also able to recover about 45 percent of our waste.”

The University’s strides toward sustainability have not gone unnoticed. In the Sierra Club’s annual sustainability report, UNC ranked 28th among other “Cool Schools” that are dedicated to sustainable practices. The University is also seeking further inspiration from its peer institutions.

“We’re also going to be looking outside to find best practices,” said Brad Ives, chief sustainability officer and associate. “You know, we’re really smart here and we’re good, but we can’t be arrogant. If someone else has done something that we can copy here on campus, this is one area where plagiarism is really allowed. So we’re going to go after that and find great things that other people have done and do that here.”

As the University continues to introduce new projects intended to encourage sustainable developments, students will continue to see changes made on campus — though some students may have interacted with sustainability projects on campus without even realizing it. 

First-year Hope Gattis, an intern at the Office of Sustainability, said that practicing environmental sustainability is universal because it is tied to a variety of disciplines.

“I think the really cool thing about sustainability is that most students here are already involved with sustainability whether they realize it or not,” Gattis said. “We have 64 different departments
across campus that offer sustainability-related courses and you may have taken one without even realizing it. So (students should) kind of just remember that sustainability is more than environmental science or environmental studies majors, it’s really all different aspects of life.”

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