UNCG’s Sustainability Coordinator Trey McDonald appears to be an easy-going, gregarious man willing to talk about most anything with visitors. Until, that is, you mention sustainability. Suddenly, his mood gets serious, almost intense.

McDonald has headed up UNCG’s sustainability program since 2009 and, as his demeanor suggests, he and his team are on a mission – to make UNCG one of the top 25 most sustainable campuses in the nation. If recent news is any indication, they are well on their way.

The team includes Sustainability Education and Outreach Specialist Chad Carwein; UNCGreen officer and senior in Biology Sarah Manning; Biology professor and Sustainability Council Secretary Dr. Olav Rueppell; Associate Professor of Communications Studies and incoming Academic Sustainability Coordinator Dr. Marianne Legreco; Council co-chairs Scott Milman and Dr. Stephen Holland, as well as UNCG’s first Academic Sustainability Coordinator and Chair of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program Dr. Aaron Allen. Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities and Chief Sustainability Officer Jorge Quintal helps keep the team on track.

Last month, UNCG received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification for two new buildings – the new Campus Police Building and Spartan Village Phase 1. Notification came from the U.S. Green Building Council, which manages the LEED certification standards.

These two certifications, along with a Gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), are the latest in a string of official recognitions acknowledging how sustainability has become interwoven with the school’s educational programs, research efforts and daily operations.

“UNCG has made tremendous strides in our efforts to become a more sustainable institution over the last six years,” says McDonald. “Besides ensuring that new construction strives to meet the latest standards to reduce its environmental footprint, we have other ongoing efforts that involve every aspect of campus life.”

STARS, or the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, allows universities to measure themselves on a range of sustainability measures and compare their performance to other universities. UNCG is one of just three universities in North Carolina to achieve the Gold rating. Others are Appalachian and UNC Chapel Hill.

“This rating is a testimony to many individuals engaged in resource and energy conservation and in implementing sustainable practices day-to-day across campus,” says McDonald. “Our largest gains have come from incorporating sustainability into the academic realm over the last three years.”

But that’s not all. For the first time, UNCG appeared in the Princeton Review’s Guide to 353 Green Colleges, scoring a 95 out of a possible 99 on surveys designed to identify the “greenest” colleges and universities across the country.

Sustainability has been among the university’s key strategic initiatives since 2009 when trustees made it one of the university’s five core values. Traditionally, sustainability has three dimensions: environmental stewardship, social equity and economic responsibility.

UNCG’s definition includes a fourth element: aesthetics. This fourth element expands the definition beyond science to the arts, an important aspect of the UNCG academic landscape. It encourages art students and faculty to contribute to the sustainability discussion. Aesthetics also relates to the beautification and preservation of the campus environment, which has been demonstrated by the Grounds Division and their work to secure Tree Campus USA status six years running for UNCG.

Awards and recognition are nice, but for McDonald, the team, and the university results are what really matter. And they’re getting them:

  • GHG Emissions – Since FY2008-09, UNCG has seen a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) of 4.1 percent.  When air travel emissions – not included in the 2008-09 inventory – are removed from that metric, UNCG has actually reduced GHG emissions by 7.54 percent.
  • Academics – Sixty-seven sustainability courses are offered and 188 more courses include sustainability elements. Courses are available in 51 of UNCG’s 52 academic departments.
  • Transportation-based Emissions – Since 2008-09, UNCG’s commuter footprint has decreased more than 37 percent. The student commuter footprint has decreased 21 percent, while emissions from employee commuters have dropped more than 55 percent. These reductions are a direct result of efforts by Parking Operations & Campus Access Management (POCAM) to develop and promote multiple alternative transportation options for the campus community, including improved cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, carpooling/vanpooling incentives, fare-free bus services, and car sharing.
  • Energy Consumption – Since 2002-03, campus energy consumption has decreased almost 17 percent per sq. ft. of building space. This equates to a reduction in energy costs of $10.7 million.
  • Water Consumption – Campus water consumption has decreased 74 percent per sq. ft. of building space since 2002-03. This represents avoided costs in the same time period of $15.1 million.

This summer, the university has also installed a 2,500-gallon cistern that will capture rainwater, which will then be used to irrigate areas that don’t have sprinkler systems. That will both cut the amount of rain that flows into the sewer system and also reduce the amount of water the university must purchase from Greensboro for irrigation.

Students have played a major role in UNCG’s sustainability success. From leading the university’s initial participation in Campus Conservation Nationals to hosting the campus dialogue on minority student attitudes regarding environmental issues, students have been at the forefront of many initiatives. Perhaps the most impactful is the adoption of the Green Fund.

In September, the UNCG Green Fund will accept its first grant proposals for campus projects to increase the sustainability of the university. The Green Fund will be funded by a student fee of $2.22 per full-time student each semester — ratified after students in the UNCGreen student organization campaigned for it. In the first semester, the fund will have $25,000 to $30,000 to distribute.

Just a few of the potential projects that could be financed by the UNCG Green fund include:

  • Installation of solar photovoltaic and/or solar thermal panels on existing buildings;
  • Installation of rainwater harvesting systems such as cisterns and rain barrels, and;
  • Construction of “living machines” (artificial wetlands) for wastewater management.

“We believe UNCG is moving well on its journey toward sustainability, but ultimately it’s everyone’s responsibility,” McDonald says. “We’re all in this together – every individual on campus. Together, we know we can make it happen.”


Story by Joe Gallehugh,  contributor
Photography by Martin W. Kane, UNCG University Relations