“Cool Schools” ranking showcases sustainability initiatives at Carolina

Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, has ranked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 17th out of more than 150 participating colleges and universities in its “Cool Schools” rankings, which highlight America’s greenest colleges and universities.

Carolina, the only North Carolina university to make the top 20 list, was recognized for displaying a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues and encouraging environmental responsibility.

“We’re so inspired to see how colleges are taking the lead on addressing climate change,” said Avital Andrews, Sierra magazine’s lifestyle editor. “From building green to saving water to offering hundreds of eco-classes, these schools’ efforts are profound, and are changing not only the campus grounds, but also the minds of the students they’re educating.”

The Sierra ranking is the newest addition to UNC-Chapel Hill’s growing list of green recognitions. Carolina is also an American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) signatory university; it has high rankings from the University of Indonesia Green Metric and the Princeton Review; and it has earned a gold star rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) program.

As a living laboratory for sustainability and the best value in higher education, Carolina continues to invest in developing an innovative, high performance, green campus. With the assistance of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Sustainability Office, which catalyzes the development and implementation of policies, practices, curricula and behaviors across campus to support environmental quality, economic prosperity and societal well-being, Carolina has reduced its energy use by 31 percent per square foot since 2003 and potable water by 60 percent per square foot since 2000.

Additional green features at Carolina include two new LEED Gold lab buildings and a LEED Platinum Education Center, a 32-megawatt cogeneration facility that is nationally recognized for efficiency, several solar arrays and green roofs and a water reclamation and reuse system that displaces 210 million gallons of potable water annually.

Other efforts that have helped UNC-Chapel Hill save $223 million in energy costs and $24 million in water costs since 2003 include new buildings designed to achieve at least LEED Silver and a 1-megawatt generator that converts landfill gas into electricity for the grid. A student fee has funded more than $1.5 million in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects and the Green Games competition among residence halls, which reduces water and energy use and increases recycling. Centralized water bottle refill stations reduce the use of disposable bottles, the Fare Free Transit System provides more than seven million free bus rides and students work closely with Carolina Dining Services to increase purchases of local and sustainably-produced foods.

Students can obtain major concentrations or a minor in sustainability – more than 400 undergraduate courses focus on sustainability themes and challenges – and Career Services counselors specialize in non-profit and environmental careers.

Additionally, the three-year “Water In Our World” campus-wide theme encouraged collaborative research, teaching and events on water-related issues. Also with an eye in sustainability, “Food for All” will be the new campus theme starting in fall 2015.

Carolina’s commitment to sustainability doesn’t end here. The University is continuing to gather input on sustainability strategies to inform its new Strategic Sustainability Plan, an effort that began in spring 2015. In addition to focused interviews, town halls and survey responses, six working groups comprised of students, faculty, staff and members of the local community have been working throughout the summer to identify UNC-Chapel Hill’s sustainability goals and priorities and actions. Working group participants and the campus community will continue their work into fall 2015.

The Sustainability Office and the Environmental Affairs Committee of Student Government will kick off the fall semester with a Sustainability Social on Aug. 20 for new and returning students and employees to learn more about campus sustainability initiatives and get involved. Staff will also have the opportunity to learn to lead sustainability efforts at an interactive sustainability workshop this fall.

To learn more about the Sustainability Office and the many sustainability innovations at Carolina go to: http://sustainability.unc.edu.

To see the full ranking of 153 “Cool Colleges” visit: www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.

Published August 11, 2015