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August 22, 2007
Campus push saves energy, promotes sustainability
Guest column
Cindy Pollock Shea


What is sustainability? The crux of sustainability is the stewardship of our environmental, social and economic resources in a manner that does not constrain options for our grandchildren. Some people refer to sustainability as a three-legged stool because it requires a balance among environmental quality, economic vitality and social equity. If we shortchange any of the three, then the stool will not be balanced.

What is UNC doing on campus to promote sustainability? Carolina is promoting sustainability on campus in many innovative, exciting ways -- stormwater initiatives, water conservation efforts, recycling programs, tree protection practices, new research centers and academic offerings -- that I would like to elaborate on in future columns. For now, I will focus on Carolina's commitment to become a climate-neutral campus by 2050 by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. We are reducing emissions on campus by introducing renewable energy sources, supporting public transportation and making our new and existing buildings much more energy efficient.

What renewable energy sources are being introduced? The first solar hot-water system on campus started operating after students returned to campus this month. The system supplies hot water to the showers used by 800 students in the renovated Morrison Residence Hall. This project was funded by the State Energy Office, the UNC Department of Housing and Residential Education and a $4 per semester increase in student fees that students requested several years ago in order to invest in renewable energy infrastructure. Overall, students will raise $1.2 million for renewable energy projects over a six-year period.

How does UNC support public transportation? UNC spends more than $6 million a year on transit. We help Chapel Hill and Carrboro provide the fare-free service of the Chapel Hill Transit bus system and provide free Triangle Transit Authority bus passes. As a result, more people ride the bus in our community than in almost any other town in America. Employees who walk, bike, ride the bus and use the park-and-ride lots can enroll in the no-charge Commuter Alternatives Program.

Members receive a free ride to their car or home if there is a qualifying family emergency, a once-a-month parking pass and discounts from local merchants. UNC also discourages single-occupant vehicles by offering a car-sharing program, subsidizing the cost of vanpools and continuing to reduce surface parking on campus. As part of the 2001 Master Plan, 20 acres of surface parking will be removed from campus. There will be only one parking space for every two employees and one for every 10 students.

What is UNC doing to save energy? Designs for all new buildings at UNC strive to reduce energy consumption at least 25 percent compared to what is required by North Carolina building codes. The new Visitor Education Center, soon to be built at the N.C. Botanical Garden, will consume only half as much energy as a traditional building. Daylight will eliminate the need for hot, electric lighting in many of the spaces. A geothermal system will cool the building in the summer and heat it in the winter. Photovoltaic panels, which generate electricity from sunlight, will produce a portion of the building's electricity.

In our existing buildings, we are saving energy by upgrading lighting systems and replacing motors with premium efficiency models. Laboratory buildings can use four times as much energy as other buildings because of the fume hoods used to keep the air safe, but we are varying air flows at our newest labs so that less outdoor air needs to be heated and cooled when researchers go home at night.

What can the average homeowner do to save energy? One of the easiest and least expensive ways to save energy is to replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. These CFLs use only about one-quarter of the electricity used by a standard light bulb to produce the same amount of light. They do not generate as much waste heat, helping to reduce air conditioning costs, and they last longer. Dressing for the weather can reduce the need to heat your home in the winter and cool it in the summer. And be sure any new appliances or windows you purchase have the Energy Star logo. Energy Star is a designation given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to products that are the most energy-efficient in their class.

Cindy Pollock Shea is director of UNC's Sustainability Office. More information about UNC's sustainability efforts is available at

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