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Students discuss environmental consciousness on campus at Sustainability Social

Sustainability Social
Students and campus members gather at the Sustainability Social in the Union Art Gallery

Students streamed into the Union Art Gallery on Thursday for an evening centered around sustainability and environmental consciousness. 

The Environmental Affairs Committee (EAC), one of several committees that make up the Undergraduate Executive Branch of UNC Student Government, partnered with the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative — the University's sustainability program — to host the Sustainability Social. 

Organizations across campus, from the Sustainable Fashion Initiative to UNC’s environmental honors fraternity, Epsilon Eta, filled the Union Art Gallery for the event. 

Sage Turek, co-chairperson of EAC, said the annual event is a way for environmentally-focused people to get more involved and learn about different groups on campus. She said in addition to hosting a speaker series, some of the EAC’s goals for the year include collaborating with the Carolina Union Activities Board to help facilitate more green events and with Carolina Dining Services to create more vegan signage. 

“We're just continuing to encourage people to use reusable items and to live a smart and sustainable life,” Turek said.

Amy Armbruster, research and outreach manager of UNC’s sustainability office, highlighted the power of collective student action to enact sustainable change at UNC in her remarks at the event, citing initiatives like Tar Heel bikes and recycling on campus.

"I encourage you to use your voice, to harness your power," Armbruster said. "Make sure that you leave your Heelprint here at Carolina to be one that is a small ecological footprint.”

Since 2000, potable water use at UNC has decreased by 63 percent per square foot, while greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced by 35 percent per square foot since 2007. The Three Zeros Initiative, developed in 2016 by the UNC Office of Sustainability, aims to reduce the University’s environmental footprint, focusing on net-zero water usage, zero waste to landfills and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Three Zeros Initiative, waste per capita to landfills has also declined by 27 percent between 2001 and 2017.

Epsilon Eta President Allie Omens said while she believes the Three Zeros Initiative is great, she thinks there is still progress to be made with regard to reducing waste on campus, particularly in increasing awareness about composting.

“When students aren't exactly composting at a very high rate even with compostable materials, it's hard to justify offering more compost bins if they don't think that people are actually going to use them,” Omens said. 

BJ Tipton, waste diversion manager, said one way she believes students can live more sustainably is by being aware of waste reduction and recycling methods. The University is also in the process of trying different means to reduce the cost and time it takes to process waste materials after tailgates, Tipton said, either by asking fans to avoid using plastic bags or removing bags from their trash at bins.

“Immediate need, immediate impact,” Tipton said. “We have six home games. It's a big deal.”

Turek said while she thinks the University could improve its environmental platform by participating in coal divestment, she echoed Tipton’s sentiments about individual ways in which students can make efforts to be more environmentally-conscious.

“The biggest way that humans can have an environmental impact, in my opinion, is for everyone to just make one small change in their life,” Turek said. “So, decide to not eat meat one day a week, decide not to drive to work once a week, something like that. If every person on earth did that, we would be able to make a big impact, way bigger than I think every individual can see themselves making.”

Senior Sydney Gallek, who founded UNC’s chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, said she believes it’s particularly important for young people to be involved in enacting environmental change.

“The world has not jaded us yet,” Gallek said. “...We don’t have any more time to waste.”

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