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'We have to act now': UNC to host largest collegiate cleantech gathering in the U.S.

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The UNC Institute for the Environment will bring students, academics, government officials and industry professionals together for the ninth annual UNC Cleantech Summit. It is set to take place at UNC’s Friday Conference Center on March 27 and 28.

On March 27 and 28, the UNC Institute for the Environment will bring students, academics, government officials and industry professionals together for the ninth annual UNC Cleantech Summit. 

Cleantech is an umbrella term for clean technology and explores sustainability projects and products. Next week's summit is the largest collegiate cleantech gathering in the U.S.

It will feature keynote speakers, panelists and workshops from well-known individuals in the clean technology industry.

The UNC Institute for the Environment is co-hosting the event with the Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability within the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Michael Piehler, UNC chief sustainability officer and director of the Institute for the Environment, said this partnership is valuable and one of the most exciting aspects of the summit. 

“We host other events. They're all great. But this one really threads the needle – what our University as a great public university should do,” Piehler said. “And that is to convene experts, to create areas for progress in critical parts of our economy and our environments — hopefully simultaneously — and to do it in a way that advances students' experience.” 

UNC’s collaborative environment makes it a great place to hold the summit, Piehler said. He added that its capacity for problem solving and broad research across physical and social sciences are strengths that distinguish it from other universities. 

“I think that culture is one that the students feel, and I think it is part of the reason that there's such an energy for something really practical, like the Cleantech Summit, because climate change is among the, if not the challenge of our generation,” Piehler said. “And we need all the ideas we can get to find ways to sustain everything we need for people to continue to live well.”

The speakers will cover environmental topics such as energy policies, green banks and global energy transitions. At the summit, interested students will have the opportunity to learn what a future in clean technology may realistically look like. 

UNC first-year Maanya Rajesh, a Cleantech intern at UNC, helped plan and promote the event and will be interviewing keynote speakers and panelists. She said young people bring a unique perspective to discussions on climate change, and attending the Cleantech Summit will broaden students’ perspectives on the issue. 

“I truly believe that climate change is the determinant of our generation's future,” Rajesh said. “And I think that business and technology has such a huge role in this energy transition, so I think I just wanted to learn more about it and also just get more involved with this amazing initiative here on campus.”

The summit will also host a career fair for students to network with people in the industry and will organize a “mentor match” program. This opportunity will allow students to connect with industry professionals and have conversations regarding aspects of environmental technologies that interest them. 

“For other people, it's something that's a part of their job or part of their career," Rajesh said. "But for us, it feels oftentimes like it's our only option. That we have to act now. And if the government isn't doing its job, if other businesses aren't doing its job, I think as youth we have this ability to step in and make that impact ourselves.” 

For industry professionals like Jennifer Weiss, Cleantech Summit panelist and co-director of the North Carolina Clean Energy Fund, the summit is a great way to learn about advances in clean energy and what opportunities are ahead.

Weiss said that because the NCCEF finances new clean technologies, attending the Cleantech Summit allows her organization to explore potential partners and investments. 

She noted that as the clean technology realm continues to grow, there is always new information to learn. 

“Sometimes there are things that I've never even heard of that people are doing and talking about. It's just a great way to, in two days, get a good glimpse of what's coming,” Weiss said.

The summit will take place at UNC’s Friday Conference Center, and interested individuals can register here

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Emily Chambliss

Emily Chambliss is a 2023-24 assistant copy editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a staffer on the copy and university desks. Emily is a sophomore pursuing a major in journalism with a minor in philosophy, politics and economics.