Not so green, after all

The past decade has watched the University put together quite the environmental resume. And, with Chancellor Holden Thorp’s commitment last year to end the University’s use of coal by 2020, there’s plenty of reason to think that resume will only grow greener with time.

But the group that pushed for Thorp’s commitment, the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Campus campaign, wants more. It wants the UNC Management Company, the body that invests the University’s nearly $2 billion endowment, to make its holdings transparent.

They say that’s the only way UNC can be sure it isn’t investing in companies that haven’t made the same coal-free commitment. And they’re right.

The Management Company’s quarterly investment update from March showed a target of 7 to 8 percent of assets in energy and commodities.

Stewart Boss, co-chairman of the UNC Sierra Student Coalition, said considering about half of the electricity in the U.S. is provided by coal, at least a portion of this money is likely going into the very industry UNC was so proud to turn its back on.

If the coalition’s fears prove true, it would mean that UNC is still a contributor to the overall problem. After all, the nature of pollution is its non-excludability.

Coal burned one, or 10, or even 24 hours away sends just as much carbon dioxide into the environment as coal burned right here on campus.

If UNC wants to remain “a national leader in sustainability in American higher education,” as the chancellor said in May of 2010, it’s important to reveal the endowment’s energy holdings and, if necessary, divest in companies that aren’t so green.

The University has made countless steps toward becoming green so far. The Climate Action Plan, energy conservation projects and renovations to Morrison Residence Hall — which won the EPA’s first annual Energy Star National Building Competition in 2010 — all point to the University’s environmentally progressive direction.

But the University’s campus is not a bubble. It needs to understand its sphere of responsibility. The endowment money should be invested in companies that share the same strong environmental morality as the students and faculty of UNC.

Holly Beilin is a sophomore global studies major from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Contact her at beilin@live.unc.edu

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