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Three Zeros combines aspiration, pragmatism

Graphic with symbols for each of three zero areas.

It sounds like a new fitness program. And in many ways that’s what Three Zeros is.

Instead of a way to shed unwanted pounds, though, the Three Zeros Initiative is Carolina’s integrated approach to reducing its environmental footprint through three overarching sustainability goals:

  • Net zero water usage means finding new ways to reduce the use of drinking water and expand the use of reclaimed water (treated wastewater for non-drinking purposes);
  • Zero waste to landfills calls for reducing the materials coming onto campus and maximizing efforts to reuse, recycle and compost waste instead of automatically tossing it in the garbage; and
  • Net zero greenhouse gas emissions focuses on minimizing the reliance on hydrocarbons (such as coal, petroleum and natural gas) while switching to renewable energy sources wherever practical.

Each is a laudable goal. Together, they represent an ambitious undertaking, but Chancellor Carol L. Folt believes that Carolina is up to the challenge. In fact, the initiative was her idea.

“Chancellor Folt started the whole thing. As we worked on the campus Sustainability Plan, we met with Chancellor Folt, and she said we have to go big,” said Brad Ives, associate vice chancellor for campus enterprises. “Actually, she had already formulated the idea for the University to target these three zeros.”

A key component that Folt emphasized is for Carolina to be a living-learning laboratory, Ives said. Examining sustainability from a cost-saving standpoint as well as a path to new teaching and research opportunities gives Three Zeros the potential for far-reaching impact.

“What things can we do here that use a specific technology or way of working and expand that out – to the rest of the UNC system, to our state, the country and the world? That’s our mission,” he said. “If we can do that while we use our campus as the place to experiment, we’re leveraging the education here to benefit everyone as we benefit ourselves.”

Carolina’s Sustainability Plan created a framework for examining sustainability efforts campus-wide and identifying ways to integrate them into teaching, research and engagement activities, as well as campus operations, said Cindy Shea, sustainability director.

“Hearing from Chancellor Folt early on about her priorities encouraged everyone to be aspirational in what we might accomplish,” she said. “We looked at sustainability from the viewpoint of what an individual can do, what the University teaches, how we can collaborate across disciplines, how we can use the campus to model new approaches to sustainability and the impact we want to have, not only here but around the globe.”

Three Zeros, which launched this fall, provides a way to aggregate many of those efforts, to examine what the University has already accomplished and how to build on that success.

Read more in the University Gazette.

By Patty Courtright, Division of Finance & Administration.
Published October 17, 2016.