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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: In honor of Earth Day, here's a look at UNC's sustainability efforts


April 22 is Earth Day, a time to reflect on and appreciate the beauty of our planet. The phrase “love your mother” is shared throughout the day, often with tips on recycling and sustainable practices. But to continue loving our mother — and to preserve the Earth for generations to come — sustainable development must be on the frontline of our priorities. In order to kickstart a green future, changes must be made on a smaller scale, starting in the university community and the individuals within.

For almost two decades, the university has held a Sustainability Policy to create a climate-neutral campus by 2050. To reach climate neutrality, the university as a whole must produce the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are taken out through the Earth’s natural processes. Achieving this goal will require campus-wide cooperation from employees, students and university officials making individual efforts to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. 

The campus sustainability commitment includes the enactment of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program to evaluate electricity-consuming equipment. Equipment with the Energy Star rating are more efficient, meaning they run on less energy. Implementation of the Energy Star Program is a great way to help the university install energy-friendly equipment to maintain its climate neutrality promise. 

UNC replaced energy-inefficient incandescent lamps with longer-lasting, less expensive fluorescent lamps, promoting durable energy sources while reducing heat production. The university also installed several solar panels around campus, including at the Student Union and Morrison Residence Hall. Solar energy is a great alternative to nonrenewable energy in terms of cost, emissions and reliability.

Carolina Dining Services puts forward a tremendous effort to maintain sustainability across all dining areas on campus with reusable takeout containers, reduced refill costs for reusable cups in select locations and a sophisticated composting system that incorporates pre- and post-consumer waste. Since food waste accounts for 18 percent of total methane emissions, mitigating waste, starting at the university level, will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus.

As individuals who reside and work on campus, it is crucial that additional steps are taken in our everyday lives to apply sustainability and continue the university’s mission of promoting green practices. While one person’s changes may seem minuscule, the cumulative effect of many small changes will make an incredible impact in the long run.

Taking public transportation or walking when possible, reducing disposable plastic usage and even simple education on sustainable habits are small, sustainable steps that make a noticeable difference in reducing your individual carbon footprint. If every person on campus made one change to their routines, the overall impact from multiple individuals would make a world of a difference.

Despite the university’s active effort to maintain a sustainable campus, there is room for improvement. For starters, there are limited compost bins around campus, especially considering the high amount of compostable packaging distributed in various campus dining locations. Addition of compost bins in populated areas, like the libraries, behind Lenoir and the Student Union will compel people to choose composting over trashing compostable material. Adequate signage depicting what is and is not compostable will reduce compost contamination and provide education on composting practices.

This Earth Day, celebrate Mother Earth by taking care of her. Pick up trash around your community, get outside and garden, shop secondhand from small businesses or simply marvel in the natural beauty our planet has to offer. When it comes to our future, Earth Day should be recognized every day, and that starts with us and our university.