UNC partnered with the North Carolina-based HanesBrands Inc. this Earth Day to establish the Champion Sustainability Fund, which works to support sustainability efforts and provides a paid internship opportunity for students.
This partnership aims to encourage UNC students, faculty and community members to develop sustainable solutions that could be directly applied to not only UNC, but to a wider scope of sustainability efforts. It involves a $1 million investment from the Champion Athleticwear brand.
“As a leading global public research university, we know the importance of environmental stewardship and what’s at stake if we don’t act swiftly. Our students, faculty and staff have long been committed to creating a more sustainable Carolina,” Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a statement. “The Champion Sustainability Fund will open new doors for our sustainability work and allow us to invest in projects and practices that benefit our community and our world.”
Mike Piehler, UNC’s chief sustainability officer, said the University recently revamped Sustainable Carolina by releasing a new Climate Action Plan, which accelerated its goals for carbon neutrality by a decade.
“The University has a long-time relationship with HanesBrands, which is the parent corporation of Champion Athleticwear, and through conversations with their corporate folks, it became apparent that both of us were at the same spot around sustainability,” Piehler said.
Chris Fox, chief sustainability officer of HanesBrands, said the company also launched a new set of long-term goals for 2025 and 2030.
Since both UNC and HanesBrands were rethinking how they approached sustainability, Piehler said it became clear their goals aligned.
“It’s such a wonderful partnership, and we’re so excited about the new capacity that it gives us around sustainability,” Piehler said. “Our University is deeply committed to reducing our environmental footprint, and anything we can do to further our efforts around water use, waste and greenhouse gas reduction is something we want to take on.”
The Champion Sustainability Fund allows for UNC community members to submit project ideas revolving around sustainability education and energy efficiency. The fund will involve several new programs, including:
- The Champion Sustainability Research Accelerator, which will award an annual $50,000 to faculty with research programs designated to improve sustainability efforts and environmental outcomes
- The Sustainable Carolina Opportunity Fund, which will provide initial funding for recipients to advance their sustainability ideas and projects at UNC
The sustainability fund is a green-revolving fund, Piehler said.
“It takes a block of money and allows you to make investments in efficiency, and then once you have that transition to something more efficient, you have a savings,” he said.
Piehler said the early strategy is to look for opportunities to make investments in ideas that are going to provide returns which can be put back into the fund. Then, he said, the cycle will circulate to build up a larger fund that, in part, will be used to fund more efficiencies and enriching activities surrounding sustainability.
Fox said starting with a fairly clean slate and being open to unique innovative ideas will serve both UNC and HanesBrands well.
Students will also have the opportunity to work at HanesBrands through a paid internship with the company’s own sustainability program.
“We’ve already identified a candidate and made an offer to her for a summer internship, and potentially an opportunity to continue on throughout the school year,” Fox said. “This particular person has got a really strong background in energy and energy programs, so she’s going to be working directly with our director of energy and global sustainability this summer.”
Fox said interns will get real-time exposure to how HanesBrands manages a global energy program. He said the company is working on a new piece of global energy and sustainability tracking software, so the selected candidate will also be involved in its development.
“It’s a really unique opportunity for students who are interested in pursuing academic backgrounds in the space to get immediate exposure to what it’s like to run these programs in the real world, especially on a global scale,” Fox said. “So, the strong inclination is that we’re both going to learn from each other and, at the same time, benefit both the student and benefit the company and the work that they’re going to provide for us.”
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