Over the past nineteen years, UNC has made tremendous strides in researching, teaching, and implementing sustainable practices throughout the University. Institutionalizing policies that foster economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social equity ensures that sustainability will remain a core value for generations of Tar Heels to come. Active campus leadership and the participation of many individuals are advancing sustainability at the local, state, and national level.


In 2017, UNC launched two zero waste pilot projects, one in the EHS Office Building and the second in several north campus residence halls. Both projects modified campus infrastructure, provided programming to encourage behavior change, and altered standard operating practices.

BUSI 590, Carolina Sustainability Consulting, was taught for the first time by Dr. Carol Hee. Four student teams worked on campus-based initiatives to support healthy food distribution from local farms, composting at the Kenan-Flagler Business School cafeteria, recycling at athletic events, and sustainable business practices at a new, student run coffee shop.


In 2016, Chancellor Carol Folt launched the Three Zeros Initiative, an integrated approach to reducing Carolina’s environmental footprint through three sustainability goals: net zero water usage; zero waste to landfills; and net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The North Carolina Policy Collaboratory was established by the state legislature to utilize and disseminate the environmental research expertise of the University for practical use by state and local government.

UNC Athletics released its first Sustainability Report, outlining sustainability initiatives from Carolina Athletics, campus departments, and community partners to green game days.


In 2015, UNC developed a Sustainability Plan to build upon current successes and create a cohesive vision for embedding sustainability into the full range of campus activities including teaching, research, operations, and engagement. The Plan is a call-to-action of the entire UNC community to “scale our impact from each individual to the world.”

The Carolina Student Union installed a 19.8 kw solar array, donated by Strata Solar. Funding to install the panels was provided by the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee (RESPC), which allocates the $4 per student per semester green energy fee.

“Food for All: Local and Global Perspectives” was introduced as the new pan-campus theme. 350 students in the introductory Social Entrepreneurship class developed ideas for 76 new food companies. Carolina Dining Services reached its goal of purchasing 20% “Real Food,” meaning food that is grown or raised using environmentally sound and humane practices. The Edible Campus Initiative, a student-initiated project of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, brought edible landscaping to campus.


In 2014, UNC earned a gold rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS 2.0) from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The achievement recognized the University’s progress — and opportunities for improvement — in education, research, operations, planning, administration, engagement, and innovation.

Two new food waste composting programs expanded organic waste collection at UNC. Carolina Dining Services introduced front-of-house composting receptacles at Main Street Lenoir and retail vendors started providing compostable dishware. The Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, with support from the Environmental Affairs Committee of Student Government, initiated a residential composting program in several pilot residence halls.

In fall 2014, the UNC Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the Sierra Student Coalition’s proposal to target clean energy in future investments of the University’s $2.1 billion endowment. The private UNC Management Company, which handles the endowment funds, was encouraged to research investments that advance environmentally-friendly, clean energy strategies.


In 2013, both the Genome Sciences Building and the Koury Oral Health Sciences Building received LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The Genome Sciences Building is the first on campus to use chilled beams that provide cooling independent of the ventilation system, while Koury is the first to capture and reuse the condensate water from the mechanical equipment that dehumidifies the building.

In summer 2013, the Institute for the Environment led its first Burch study abroad program that focused on renewable energy and urban planning in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden.


In 2012, UNC introduced the first pan-campus theme, a three-year focus on “Water in our World.” “Water in our World” included course development grants, research, and multi-disciplinary events to enhance understanding of this most basic resource.


The UNC Energy Dashboard website, launched in 2011, displays near real-time steam, chilled water, and electricity use data for more than 200 campus buildings. The dashboard interface was custom designed for UNC. Building energy consumption for all three utilities, plus renewable energy sources, can be viewed in hourly, monthly, and annual increments. The data also enables comparisons of energy use among buildings and informs occupants of real-time energy consumption and the effects of behavior and technical changes within the building.

The Institute for the Environment launched the Sustainable Triangle Field Site (STFS) in spring of 2011 as an urban field site experience located on and near the UNC campus. New sustainability-related courses such as “Principles of Sustainability,” and “Reimagining the American Landscape,” challenge students to think critically about sustainability in the present and the future.

To increase awareness of sustainability on campus, the UNC Sustainability Office began the Carolina Green Online Pledge, in which students and staff commit to practice energy and water conservation, smart transportation and purchasing behaviors, waste management and investment practices, and become involved in the community. In its inaugural year, the pledge was taken by more than 2,500 students, staff, faculty, and alumni who received “Are YOU Carolina Green?” reusable water bottles.


In 2010, Chancellor Holden Thorp commissioned an Energy Task Force to study energy issues on campus. The chancellor accepted all recommendations, including a commitment to end coal burning on campus by May 1, 2020. Carolina also won the EPA’s first annual “Working Off the Waste” Competition, that pitted over 200 buildings against each other to see which could save the most energy. UNC’s Morrison Residence Hall won the national competition, reducing energy use by 36% and preventing 733 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, all for under $35,000. In March 2010, Carolina’s Campus Community Garden on Wilson Street in Chapel Hill opened to provide the space and support to grow vegetables and fruit so that all employees could have access to fresh produce, and to foster a community among staff, students, faculty and the local residents.
UNC Athletics, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), Environmental Affairs Committee (EAC) and the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling collaborated to begin the tailgater recycling program known as Rameses Recycles. UNC began competing in the annual Game Day Challenge, a friendly competition between colleges and universities to see who can reduce and recycle the most waste from a single home football game.


A new Energy Policy in 2009 ensures that campus building systems, responsible for the majority of campus energy use, operate efficiently. Similarly, a new reclaimed water system, constructed in partnership with OWASA, enabled the University to dramatically reduce its demand for potable water. These commitments save millions of dollars annually and substantially reduce the University’s environmental footprint. The UNC Board of Governors adopted the comprehensive, system-wide Sustainability Policy.

In 2009, the N.C. Botanical Garden Education Center opened to the public. This facility is the first public building in the state to receive LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Also in 2009, the campus developed its long-term Climate Action Plan. An interim goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to year 2000 levels by 2020. Strategies include switching to renewable fuel sources, designing and operating super-efficient buildings and energy systems, reducing materials use and waste generation, and providing transportation options that reduce reliance on single occupant vehicles. Achieving these goals will depend on the actions and behaviors of the entire campus community.


In 2008, the University completed its first comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory and introduced the sustainability minor. Two University representatives were appointed to the founding Board of Trustees of the local Foundation for a Sustainable Community. UNC also provided a liaison to the Town of Chapel Hill’s new Sustainability Committee. Carolina contributed to UNC system initiatives by co-chairing a new committee tasked with developing a system-wide sustainability policy and by providing two subcommittee chairs.


In 2007, UNC became a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging climate neutrality by 2050. An Energy Efficient Lighting Policy was implemented and incandescent bulbs were phased out on campus by January 2008.


In 2006, UNC began to address climate change by joining the Town of Chapel Hill to become the first town-gown partners in the country to sign the Community Carbon Reduction Pledge. Both parties committed to a 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. An Energy Efficient Purchasing Policy was enacted that requires the purchase of Energy Star-certified products.


In 2005, the University formed the Vice Chancellor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee and implemented the Campus Sustainability Policy. The policy established that “University policies, practices, and curricula should, when possible, embody approaches that reduce life cycle costs, restore or maintain the functioning of natural systems, and enhance human well-being.” The committee’s ongoing role is to “recommend long-term sustainability goals for the University and identify the means to achieve them.” Committee members include faculty, staff, administrators, and students. The committee is co-chaired by both the academic and administrative arms of campus. Also in 2005, Carolina completed the Carrington Hall Addition, the first building in the UNC system to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.


In 2004, the Carolina Covenant was introduced to guarantee a debt-free education for students from low-income families. This approach was subsequently adopted by dozens of universities across the country.


RESPC 2003Students took the lead in 2003 by voting to adopt a $4 per semester green energy fee. The Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, an official student government committee, allocates the $200,000 raised annually to fund renewable energy projects on campus. The self-imposed fee must be approved regularly by student referendum. It was originally approved by 74 percent of the voting student body. In 2009, the mandate was expanded to include energy efficiency and awareness-efforts. In 2013, 83% of the student body voted to make the fee permanent.

Also in 2003, UNC launched a new phase in planning for the Carolina North campus and incorporated sustainability as a core value. Sustainability principles will guide the development of this 947-acre parcel, which will be a model of ecological, social, and economic sustainability. Almost one-third of the parcel will be put into a permanent conservation easement. Picture courtesy of the RESPC Committee.


In 2002, with the university’s financial support, Chapel Hill Transit introduced fare-free public buses for everybody.


In 2001, Carolina hired the first full-time sustainability coordinator in the UNC system to coordinate and accelerate sustainability efforts on campus. 2001 also marked the founding of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise in the Kenan-Flagler Business School and a sustainable enterprise concentration for MBA graduates. The Campus Master Plan was approved in 2001, and State of North Carolina higher education bond money started flowing for one of the largest building programs ever undertaken by a major U.S. university.


Organized efforts to institutionalize sustainability at UNC began in 1999 with the formation of the Sustainability Coalition. Executive Order 156 from then-governor Jim Hunt called on all state agencies to adopt more sustainable practices. Simultaneously, UNC formed the Sustainability Coalition, a group of volunteer staff, faculty, and students who identified and implemented green practices throughout campus. Areas of focus included academics, business operations, energy, transportation, water, land and buildings, material resources and waste reduction, and outreach.


In 1998, the Carolina Environmental Program was formed as a campus-wide, interdisciplinary initiative focusing on environmental learning, research, and public service.