University News

Carolina launches innovative sustainability programs thanks to new Champion Sustainability Fund

The $1 million gift enables the Carolina community to make sustainable, research-based projects a reality.

People walk near the Davie Poplar tree on Carolina's campus, with words that read
(Photo by Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will soon get a big boost as it works to create a more sustainable campus. A $1 million investment from the Champion Athleticwear brand, part of the North Carolina-based HanesBrands’ portfolio, will establish the Champion Sustainability Fund at Carolina.

A significant investment in the University’s future, the new fund will support innovative sustainability programs and initiatives that move Carolina closer to its practices into the University’s research, education and service activities.

The multi-faceted initiative is designed to encourage UNC-Chapel Hill community members to create sustainable solutions that benefit the wider community. By funding sustainable innovations and preparing tomorrow’s field leaders today, this partnership pushes both organizations closer to a shared goal: making research-based ideas and discoveries a reality to benefit the public good.

“As a leading global public research university, we know the importance of environmental stewardship and what’s at stake if we don’t act swiftly. Our students, faculty and staff have long been committed to creating a more sustainable Carolina,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “The Champion Sustainability Fund will open new doors for our sustainability work and allow us to invest in projects and practices that benefit our community and our world.”

Champion Sustainability Fund

In the revolving fund model, Carolina community members are encouraged to submit project ideas focused on sustainability education and energy efficiency to the new Champion Sustainability Fund advisory group, made up of sustainability leaders from HanesBrands and Carolina. Selected projects will receive seed funding to put plans into action. Once a project is approved and implemented, the cost savings created through the project will be reinvested back into the Fund, allowing sustainability initiatives to keep moving forward. By reinvesting savings, the Fund will build future funding levels to continue offering opportunities for the Carolina community to achieve its sustainability goals.

Once operational, the revolving fund will support several new programs, including:

  • The Champion Sustainability Research Accelerator, which will award $50,000 annually to Carolina faculty whose research programs are poised to target improved sustainability and environmental outcomes.
  • The Sustainable Carolina Opportunity Fund, which will provide seed funding for scalable opportunities to advance sustainability at Carolina.

Preparing the next generation

The University will also partner with HanesBrands on broader programming and educational opportunities, including equipping students to become future sustainability leaders. A paid internship program will provide Carolina students hands-on experience working at HanesBrands on the company’s comprehensive sustainability program, which is focused on aggressive goals to improve the lives of people, protect the planet and produce sustainable products.

“We are incredibly pleased that two North Carolina-based icons are coming together to drive ambitious sustainability initiatives to help improve the planet,” said Chris Fox, HanesBrands chief sustainability officer. “We are deeply committed to sustainability in all that we do and believe that our efforts can have a much broader impact through strategic partnerships. Having some of our brightest minds working with us through the Champion Sustainability Fund will allow us to make even greater strides forward in support of our 2030 goals.”

Sustainable together

UNC-Chapel Hill first launched campus-wide environmental and sustainability initiatives about 15 years ago, in an agreement between the University and the Town of Chapel Hill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to reduce the University’s environmental footprint are making a difference. The University established both short- and long-term goals, such as reducing water use, waste in landfills and greenhouse gas emissions. Carolina’s Gold status was recently renewed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Now, through Sustainable Carolina, the University broadens its sustainability focus to include education, research and engagement, while remaining committed to decreasing its environmental footprint. The Champion Sustainability Fund initiative is an important next step toward meeting the University’s future sustainability goals as outlined in the recently released Climate Action Plan.

“The generous gift and committed partnership from Champion will help us accelerate Sustainable Carolina,” said Michael Piehler, chief sustainability officer at UNC-Chapel Hill. “The initiative will help us pursue our long-term goals while supporting the more immediate sustainability projects that can help us get there. Our University is fueling innovation around sustainability through novel research programs in solar energy, water and air quality, upcycling plastic waste and many other areas. This gift will greatly enhance our efforts to move research programs forward to real-world campus sustainability solutions.”

The gift from Champion counts toward the Campaign for Carolina, the University’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in history, launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by December 2022.