Report: Campus-Wide Sustainability Use Unsustainable

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CHAPEL HILL, NC – A recent report from the UNC Sustainability Office shows that the reserves of sustainability at UNC are being consumed at an alarming rate and could be depleted by 2022.

“Sustainability is quickly running out on campus,” said Cindy Pollock Shea, Director of the UNC Sustainability Office and lead author of the report. “Everyone from undergraduate activists to respected environmental and public policy researchers has become dependent on sustainability in countless aspects of their lives. The rate at which UNC uses sustainability is simply unsustainable.”

Following the sustainability boom of the mid-2000’s, UNC was among many universities that began devoting mass amounts of resources to sustainability. But Shea suspected problems early on.

“When the Sustainability Living-Learning Community opened in partnership with UNC Housing, I saw we were on a crash course,” she said. “And it’s only gotten worse with the Carolina Bicycle Coalition, the Environmental Law Project, the Greek Sustainability Council, the Environmental Affairs Committee, the Green Games, and HOPE Gardens ramping up their work.”

Veeral Saraiya, Sustainability Chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, is among many on campus who have called attention to the implications of the report, which she says are broader than many realize.

“I’m glad the report is finally bringing attention to the issue, but it does come near capturing the full scope of the problem,” Saraiya said, noting that the research does not fully account for the heavy sustainability usage of the Net Impact Club, the Energy Club, EcoReps, CURB: New Urbanism, FLO Food, Epsilon Eta, Nourish International, the Zimride Ride Share Tool, the Carolina Green Pledge, UNC’s Climate Action Plan, the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee (RESPC), the Roosevelt Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy, the Campus Sustainability Report, the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC),  and the Kenan-Flagler Business School: Center for Sustainable Enterprise.

“If the university continues to overuse and rely this heavily on sustainability, most of UNC’s campus will be covered with solar panels by the year 2018,” she said.

Around campus, reactions to the report have been strong.

“This is eye-opening,” said student organizer Crispin Plesants. “I recently founded a student group dedicated to promoting sustainable lifestyles on campus, and our next meeting will be devoted entirely to tackling this issue.”

Amidst the widespread alarm, Larry Spoekler of the Foundation for Sustainable Development was among the few who defended current sustainability usage on campus.

“Look, this isn’t the sustainability your parents grew up on,” said Spoekler, “this is a highly refined and processed version of the crude environmentalism used in the seventies. Sure, we’re using more sustainability now, but we’re getting more out of it than ever before.”

Spoekler cited organizations like the MakeMeSustainable Carbon Calculator and Social Network, A Drink For Tomorrow, the Sierra Student Coalition, and Students Working in the Environment for Active Transformation (SWEAT) as examples of those using sustaninbility sustainably.

When asked in an emergency meeting of the Vice-Chancellor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee how the trends highlighted in her report might shape UNC’s future, Shea suggested that radical reform will soon be in order.

“Sure, sustainability is cleaner than it was, say, forty years ago,” she said, “but we cannot remain dependent until the last drop of sustainability is used up. We need a shift to a more viable bridge fuel, like entrepreneurship. Now there’s something this school can mine for years.”

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