It is a challenge for any entity – from the individual to the institution – to understand the full impacts of its actions on the world. From the food we eat to the ways we move between our homes, classrooms, and workplaces, we make thousands of decisions every day that contribute both directly and indirectly to the social, economic, and environmental conditions of our communities today and in the future. Some of these impacts can be tracked, such as energy and water consumption, waste sent to the landfill, and the greenhouse gases we emit. Tracking the degree to which sustainability is integrated into our courses, our research, and our culture is just as important.
Carolina is widely recognized for our sustainability initiatives to date. The University has been consistently ranked among the nation’s greenest colleges by the Princeton Review and acknowledged as one of the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools.” Carolina Dining Services and the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the Kenan-Flagler Business School are among the campus entities to receive special distinction, respectively winning the National Grand Prize for excellence in sustainable dining (NACUFS 2015) and third place ranking in Corporate Social Responsibility (Financial Times 2013). Perhaps most significantly, we achieved a Gold rating through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE’s) rigorous Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) program. This rating, achieved by less than a third of participating institutions, encompasses academics, research, operations, planning and administration, and engagement — with UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gold rating reflecting existing successes in each of these arenas.
These and other acknowledgments are useful tools to communicate our wins and track our performance against our peers, yet they only tell part of the story. Harder to measure is the enthusiasm of students, faculty, staff, and administrators for solving global challenges. This excitement, awareness, and spirit of collaboration does not exist within the framework of STARS or any other rating or assessment system — yet, these pieces must come together to truly embed sustainability in our campus culture.
Transforming our campus into a living laboratory for sustainability will require all of us, working collaboratively, learning collectively, and advancing together. From a first-year student remembering an orientation module about turning off the lights to a senior capstone project that engages the community beyond the University in sustainability practices, an awareness of social, economic, and environmental impacts should be core to the student experience. Our staff and faculty deserve the same education. Through professional development opportunities and a range of resources to support sustainable behaviors at work, we can create a culture of stewardship and engagement that spans our campus community.
The Sustainability Plan is our effort to move Carolina towards that future, building upon the many efforts undertaken to date, communicating both today’s successes and tomorrow’s aspirations, and providing all members of our community with the tools and opportunities to get involved.