It’s possible to go green even when surrounded by Carolina blue.
UNC Institute for the Environment Director Mike Piehler is an expert on how human activity affects natural systems and is helping the University be more green as Carolina’s chief sustainability officer. He’s also dedicated to helping Tar Heels find ways to make a difference on their own.
“When thinking about sustainability, you have to consider what you are trying to sustain and who are you trying to sustain for,” says Piehler. “Sustainability is practical in that if we don’t effectively manage things like food production, air quality and natural systems, we’re going to lose those benefits to people.”
Piehler offers tips on how to lessen our environmental impact in 2023.
Finding a way to commute sustainably combats carbon emissions.
Driving an electric or hybrid vehicle is great for reducing local emissions, but taking the bus is even better. Carolina is a key funder for Chapel Hill Transit, which serves Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the University. The system is free to use and runs daily routes.
Biking is another sustainable way to get around. The town has more than 34 miles of bike lanes and 17.6 miles of greenways and has recently made bike lane improvements and added bike boxes for safety at traffic lights.
“The University has lots of programs to support biking within campus and is working with the surrounding communities to try to make biking easier,” Piehler says.
When taking a trip out of town, consider traveling in a more sustainable manner and reduce the carbon emissions associated with flying or driving.
“If you can take a train, that’s wonderful,” Piehler says. “But with some of these approaches, it’s a matter of what fits within your life and job and the resources that you have.”
In our digital world, electronic waste has increased, especially as technology continues to advance and older electronics grow obsolete. Electronics must be disposed of and recycled properly when they’ve reached the end of life.
Being more sustainable also means being more conscious of the technology you buy and finding ways to extend a product’s life by passing it on to someone else. Carolina’s surplus goods program is one way to do that. The program collects used devices and sells them to new users instead of tossing them in the trash.
“Electronics are a big deal at the University because we do so many things that require computation and so many things that require communication and storage of data,” says Piehler. “To enhance sustainability, it is important that purchases are made thoughtfully and that we maximize the life of devices we purchase.”
From excess packaging to overuse of water and energy, humans generate a lot of waste. Making the conscious decision to use less is a step in the right direction to becoming more sustainable. When shopping online, for example, consider choosing a “less boxes” option. Once those boxes arrive, take the next step to reduce your waste: recycle.
Sustainable Carolina’s Green Office program teaches employees about waste reduction and other sustainability concepts. Tar Heels behind CompostMates provide their fellow students easier ways to compost.
“There are great recycling and compost programs on campus,” says Piehler.
But every step to being more green doesn’t have to be a big one.
“When doing laundry, if you can wash and dry your clothes less, not only will you reduce your environmental impact, but you will also save money on detergent, water and energy costs. A simple change is to wash clothes in cold water, which significantly reduces carbon emissions,” Piehler says. “Simple changes can make a big difference.”