The University is no stranger to advancing environmental strategies and research, but now it is able to explore through a different lens — local breweries.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently named UNC as one of the five recipients of a two-year $350,000 pollution prevention grant beginning in October.
With this grant, the University plans to partner with local brewing companies to examine and integrate more sustainable environmental practices.
The University will help the breweries by tracking progress and suggesting improvements to reduce pollutants with an emphasis on energy use and climate change. Researchers will share the best practices they find through these grants through webinars and leadership exchanges to promote the replication of positive outcomes.
“I do hope that the knowledge gained from the (breweries) they do work with will be lessons learned for Chapel Hill, and there will be opportunities for implementing best practices on energy efficiency and potential steps that small businesses can take to address climate change,” said Sarav Arunachalam, the deputy director and research professor of UNC’s Institute for the Environment.
According to an email from the EPA, U.S. breweries consume seven barrels of water for every barrel of beer on average, which results in inefficient water use.
The EPA’s Pollution Prevention (P2) grant promotes projects that help businesses develop and adopt source sustainability practices.
The EPA selected UNC because of the application’s emphasis on reduced energy, the brewing industry’s impact on climate change, their partnership with the Brewers Association and the need for monetary resources to finance P2 upgrades.
The grant will be administered by the Environmental Finance Center at the University.
P2 is a collective term for reducing or eliminating pollutants from ending up in the environment prior to recycling, treatment or disposal and prioritizing human health. These practices can help businesses save money by reducing their resource use, expenditures, waste and liability costs.
The grant was made possible by President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law, which included a historic $100 million appropriation that quadrupled the P2 grant’s existing capacity.
“State and Tribal Assistance Grants have promoted source reduction assistance to businesses for more than 30 years. From 2011-2019, the P2 grants have resulted in $1.9 billion savings for businesses, 706 million pounds of hazardous material reduced and 16.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases eliminated,” a representative from the EPA said in an email.
Mike Piehler, the University’s chief sustainability officer, expressed excitement about the grant and its potential to impact the community.
“It sounds like this is a double benefit of not only less pollution in terms of a problem for the environment but also an economic benefit in terms of the savings to a company and the benefit then to the community where the company is,” Piehler said.
Environmental voices on campus echo Piehler’s excitement.
“The fact that you can have a public institution like UNC partnering with businesses like this, it’s just a reinforcement of the fact that these businesses have real impacts outside of giving people jobs, and the ways they operate will inevitably affect people’s lives,” said Arnav Gunwani, co-president of the UNC Sustainable Business Club.
Even though the grant is specific to UNC, Piehler believes the research will benefit the University, the city and even the state.
“There are so many people now on the planet that what each one of us does has more of an impact because it’s scaled so much," Piehler said. "So anytime you can find a way to improve a process and decrease pollution, it’s a benefit."
Getting that information to other places starts at the local level before it grows in both geography and age. The EPA addressed that there are opportunities for everyone — especially the future generations — to benefit from pollutant reduction.
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