As students flocked around the free Maple View Farm ice cream during the second annual Three Zeros Day celebration, they were given more than just free food in a zero-waste setting.
The Three Zeros Environmental Initiative and its partners — including The Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling and UNC Transportation and Parking — used this event to connect with students and give them a look into the program’s efficacy in the past years.
The initiative, started in 2016 by Chancellor Carol Folt, has three main goals: net zero water use, zero waste to landfills and net zero greenhouse gases.
Partners of the initiative lined the sidewalks of Polk Place, providing information and free items to the students who stopped by their tables. The event emphasized the positive environmental impact that individual students can make.
“I think that Three Zeros Day is an amazing opportunity for us, as a community, to come together and celebrate all of the success that we’ve had and to look forward to the future where we’ll be even more sustainable,” said Amy Armbruster, the research and outreach manager of the Sustainability Office.
From using non-potable water in more effective ways, to getting rid of straws in the stadium and handing out recycling bags at tailgates, strides have been taken all across campus to minimize UNC’s environmental impact.
Three Zeros Day is the program’s way of both celebrating what UNC has accomplished and keeping on the right path to sustainability by getting students and faculty involved and interested.
“I really like that UNC has come forward and made a commitment as a university to be more sustainable,” said sophomore environmental science major Hope Gattis, an intern at the Sustainability Office. “We’ve been able to talk to a lot of different people, get the word out and help people learn about how they can be sustainable in their daily lives.”
According to the Three Zeros’ website, the University saved 300 million gallons of potable water and diverted 45 percent of waste from landfills in 2017. Since 2002, through new sustainable practices, UNC has decreased its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent per square foot of campus.
Senior Taylor Franklin, an environmental health sciences major at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and an EcoReps coordinator at the Sustainability Office, said the importance of the event is making students aware of what they can do to protect the environment.
“I’ve been a part of sustainability at UNC and the Three Zeros environmental initiative since it was launched,” Franklin said. “I’ve always cared greatly about the environment, and I started to get involved just to teach students how they can make a difference.”
Amy Preble, recycling coordinator for the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, said students may feel insignificant in the grand scheme of environmental change, and they seek to change these notions.
“Climate change and the sustainability movement and all of these things can feel really overwhelming, and (it) can feel like your individual actions don’t make a difference because it’s such a tiny thing in a huge problem,” Preble said. “I think realizing that everybody’s individual actions do make a difference and are part of a bigger collective whole (is important).”
As for their goals, the initiative has achieved net zero water use, which is defined as using less potable water than what falls as precipitation on campus.
The group has many ambitions for the coming years, including making the runoff from campus cleaner to protect downstream waters and launching a new solar farm to promote a shift to sustainable resources.
“I am part of an institution of over 20,000 people and even though individual actions seem really small, if everyone who’s a part of that community takes part in those actions, it makes a really big impact,” Gattis said.
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