Campuses must lead efforts to address global climate change

Chapel Hill Herald (Durham, NC)
Chancellor of UNC Chapel Hill

Carolina is committed to sustainability, environmental sensitivity and protecting natural resources in our community. Our responsibility to the environment also extends beyond the borders of North Carolina. Our campus, along with colleges and universities throughout the country, must lead efforts to address global climate change through research, education and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

It is clear that minimizing the effects of climate
change requires creativity and innovation. Colleges and universities
provide the foundation for research and education necessary to meet
this challenge. A national commitment to reducing energy consumption by
college campuses will significantly reduce emissions that contribute to
global warming.

This month, I signed the American CollegeUniversity Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging to develop a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible. Climate neutrality means reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions to the maximum extent possible, and then offsetting the remaining unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. Offset options include investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy systems or even rapidly growing tropical forests. Thanks to excellent efforts by staff, faculty and students, we are well on our way to achieving climate neutrality.
The university has already pledged a 60-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 by joining CRed, the community carbon reduction project, under the guidance of the vice chancellor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee.
We require energy-efficient purchasing and construction, encourage students and employees to commute via public transportation and are adopting renewable energy sources whenever possible. Our faculty and students have made sustainability a part of the curriculum and their research provides important insights into understanding climate change.

The Climate Commitment calls on universities to purchase certified ENERGY STAR products. In December 2006, the university approved a new energy-efficient purchasing policy, which was developed by the Sustainability Advisory Committee. The policy requires all energy-consuming equipment purchased by UNC be certified with the ENERGY STAR label whenever possible. UNC has been an ENERGY STAR partner since 2001.

Our long-term partnerships with Chapel Hill, Carrboro and the Triangle Transit Authority have significantly increased the number of students and employees using public transportation, another Climate Commitment goal. Through the Commuter Alternatives Program and fare-free transit, UNC meets the National Standards of Excellence established by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation for designation as a Best Workplace for Commuters.

We will further trim campus emissions by installing an ethanol-based fuel station and establishing maintenance shops across campus to reduce trips by service vehicles. Staff will be able to travel between areas with electric-powered vehicles. Waste management and recycling programs also help curb emissions: last year, Carolina recycled almost 2,200 tons of fiber, saving 1 million gallons of oil and 1 million pounds of air pollution.

New lighting systems, improved motors and adjustments to the air handling systems have reduced energy consumption in existing buildings by 11 percent in the last three years. Energy Services is completing installation of an automated metering system to better track electricity, chilled water and steam usage in buildings. Earlier this month, we opened a new Enterprise Building Management System center for staff to remotely track building energy consumption in real time and make energy saving adjustments to more than 100 buildings.

To reduce environmental impacts associated with new construction, every project on campus must complete a customized checklist based on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines. Current designs for the Genome Science Building and Dental Sciences Building have set energy reduction targets of 30 percent or more. The goal is to achieve LEED Silver performance on all projects, as recommended by the Climate Commitment.

Anna Wu, facilities planning director, and 14 of her colleagues in facilities planning and facilities services, recently earned the council’s LEED accredited professional status. These 15 professionals have demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and principles, as well as familiarity with LEED requirements, resources and processes.

The comprehensive guidelines for Carolina North development also include high-performance building guidelines and sustainable energy strategies — further evidence of the university’s commitment to sustainability.

Our students have twice voted to invest their fees to fund renewable energy infrastructure, including a solar hot water system in the renovated Morrison residence hall, scheduled to open this year. Other projects include the first year of biodiesel fuel use in the Point to Point bus system and geothermal wells at the N.C. Botanical Garden Visitor Education Center. The energy fee will collect $1.2 million over six years.

At student request, the Carolina Environmental Program (CEP) will launch both an honors program and minor in sustainability. The CEP has made the reduction of energy use and carbon dioxide emissions a core aspect of its education, research and outreach activities. Its students, under the guidance of Professor Douglas Crawford-Brown and the Sustainability Office, have completed an inventory of the university’s carbon emissions. This is an important first step in developing goals and actions that will lead us to climate neutrality.

I am proud of the extensive and award-winning work the university has done in bringing principles of sustainability to the campus.

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