Opinion Staff Writer
This year’s semi-annual Greenfest brings a strong sense of sustainability and community to campus.
With events ranging from listening to keynote speakers to driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway in an electric vehicle, it is no wonder the idea of sustainability on campus is an exciting one.
UNC Asheville does a lot to remain a sustainable campus. The Office of Sustainability provides services to actively engage the campus community in the idea of sustainability and work to improve the health of Asheville’s natural environment. The office reaches out to faculty, staff and the outside community to model sustainable practices, according to UNCA’s sustainability website.
“I think the composting initiative was huge and has grown so much and the recycling program has really improved as well. I also think the Student Environmental Center is a unique and special power tool for UNCA and has put on a lot of awesome programs, speakers and sustainability opportunities for students,” said Julie Neumark, West Ridge eco-representative.
Eco-representatives are hired for each residence hall on campus, two in Governors Hall specifically. Employed by the Student Environmental Center, eco-representatives implement and maintain a variety of practices devoted to environmental awareness and sustainability. Such practices include maintaining the SEC gardens, offering compost bins to students and maintaining the free store on campus.
Things like offering compost bins and maintaining the free store may seem like small tasks, but the bins can create sustainable practices within the students who utilize them. Students that receive compost bins and use them regularly will likely begin to see the benefit and will use one when they move out of the residence halls or graduate.
Compost is used as an organic material to add to soil which will aid in plant growth. Compostable products, such as food scraps and yard waste, are often thrown away in landfills and make up 20 to 30 percent of our waste. Composting these items instead keeps them out of landfills where they would take up space and release a potent greenhouse gas, methane, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Additionally, the free store is a concept that students will take with them for years to come. It is unlikely that there are many services exactly like the free store on campus, a place where items can be donated and taken free of charge, but the idea of circulating what already exists instead of creating something entirely new is very green. Creating something new takes labor and resources that can put a strain on our environment.
While UNCA does a lot of good practices towards sustainability, there is always room for improvement.
“I would love for our school to divest from fossil fuels entirely and to commit to carbon neutrality. I would like to see more trees wherever it’s possible, rainwater collection, not only in our gardens and solar and wind energy being implemented. I also would love to change the residence hall lighting to motion-sensored or a sustainable alternative to 24-hour lighting,” Neumark said.
UNCA should implement more solar energy on campus. Adding solar panels to the roofs of residence halls and academic buildings facing the sun at the correct angle could seriously cut campus power usage and cost.
According to Project Sunroof, adding solar panels to the top of Highsmith would save an estimated $10,000 in energy costs over the course of 20 years. Additionally, solar panels will, on average, keep 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, over the same 20 years, according to Energy Informative.
Implementing this would attract students to UNCA. The world, and the younger generations in particular, seem to be moving in a more sustainable direction. People care more about the state of the environment more now than they ever have. It would be wise of UNCA to capitalize on this surge of concern for the earth and to contribute to its conservation.
As far as lighting in the residence halls goes, often the lighting in the hallways and elevators especially, is on constantly. The motion sensing idea Neumark pitched would be extremely beneficial in cutting down power usage. Overlook Hall already has some of what she suggested. The lights in hallways, elevators and common spaces in the suites are motion-sensored.
As the newest residence hall currently on campus, Overlook’s sustainable lighting trend could influence the new apartment-style halls opening this fall. If the trend of the newest halls being equipped with more efficient designs continues, then it will be exciting to see what The Woods will bring us next semester.
“Sustainability is thinking ahead. It’s like buying groceries at the store but not eating all your food at once. That same kind of practice is at the core of sustainability. We have limited natural resources on this planet and we know that at the rate at which we are using them, the earth won’t be able to sustain healthy and abundant life as it does now,” said Neumark.
She goes on to say that we must take care of the earth if we are to continue having a thriving home. Creative and innovative ideas must be utilized in order to conserve and restore what we can.