UNCA pledges to become carbon neutral by 2050

Press release from UNC Asheville:

Only 10 percent of the colleges and universities in the nation have pledged to become carbon neutral. Now, UNC Asheville is one of them.

That’s the pledge made when the University signed The Carbon Commitment on March 30, 2021, with the goal of becoming carbon neutral in just under 30 years.

“In the United States there are about 4,000 colleges and universities,” Chancellor Cable said at the signing event. “Today we will join the 400, just 10 percent, of those colleges and universities that have pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, implying that we have a lot of work to do, but we will do that work.”

That work will involve creating a Climate Action Plan (CAP), completing an annual greenhouse emissions inventory and identifying near-term opportunities for greenhouse gas reduction, making carbon neutrality part of the curriculum, and completing an annual evaluation of progress towards the goal.
It is, as Chancellor Cable said, a lot of work. But it’s work that the University is already engaged in, and work that the students in particular are eager to move forward.

“We had overwhelming student support for the signing of the Carbon Commitment. Petitions were signed by several student organizations, such as Asheville Students for a Healthy Environment, UNC Asheville Divest Coalition, Student Environmental Center, and the Student Government Association,” said John Pierce, vice chancellor for budget and finance. “Not only does the Carbon Commitment align with our students’ values, but also our institutional core values.”

Part of adhering to the institutional core value of sustainability, Pierce said, was modeling sustainable campuses practices. “This is one of those sustainable campus practices,” Pierce said.

Signing the Carbon Commitment also received support from the UNC Asheville Board of Trustees, who passed a resolution to sign the commitment with the encouragement of the UNC Asheville Sustainability Council. UNC Asheville Interim Co-Directors of Sustainability Jackie Hamstead and Alison Ormsby helped to lay the foundation for the Carbon Commitment signing and contributed to the Climate Action Plan, which also involved efforts from UNC Asheville students.  In the summer of 2020, Ormsby worked with student Kelsey Hall ’22 on a research project to lay the groundwork for the greenhouse gas inventory and develop climate action plan ideas.

Another student leading the way for the Carbon Commitment is Lindsey Nystrom ’22, who first got involved while taking a course on climate communication taught by Evan Couzo, assistant professor of education. For a final group project, Nystrom helped develop the draft Climate Action Plan that UNC Asheville will use to move the University towards net zero carbon emissions. A big part of that plan involves tracking carbon emissions on campus using a platform called SIMAP (sustainability indicator management and analysis platform), which uses algorithms to track, analyze and improve campus sustainability.

“We get data about how much fuel is used when a plane is used for study abroad, or how many tons of food waste are we sending out to the landfill,” Nystrom explained. “That all goes into SIMAP and is tracked, so then we can report that to Second Nature and then track our progress over the years.”
Other carbon-contributing factors that are tracked include everything from electricity, natural gas and propane used on campus to transport fuel used for academic outings or campus rec trips. And the solutions are just as varied as the sources of carbon emissions—some of those solutions are already in progress.

There are short-term projects, like bike racks, and there are medium- and long-term projects that can be implemented over time, as well, such as installing solar panels on more buildings on campus. All of these projects play a vital role in reaching carbon neutrality and may have far-reaching effects in other areas as well.

“Mitigating climate change is also a tool for harm reduction in other areas; climate action is an action towards racial justice, towards health justice, towards land justice,” Nystrom said. “A few of our projects revolve around indigenous interaction and revolve around community partners that are doing great social justice work…. Climate change affects everyone and it especially affects marginalized folks. I think it really speaks to UNC Asheville’s values of equity and integrity and sustainability to be involved with this.”

It’s important work, and work that will take involvement from the entire UNC Asheville community to complete.
“It’s going to look different for everyone on campus, but everyone on campus has a role,” Nystrom said. “In the end carbon emissions are a number, but it comes down to the people that we’re trying to serve and connect with… I think it’s an opportunity for us to collaborate and learn and respect all the work that we might not see on campus.

“I hope everyone is empowered by that and excited about that, because it’s a cool opportunity to learn more about who we are.”

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