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Environment, Higher Ed, Public Health

Happy Three Zeros Day

October 7, 2019 |4:47 min read

What’s three zeros?

Net zero water usage, zero waste to landfills and net zero greenhouse gas emissions are UNC-Chapel Hill’s three sustainability goals for an integrated approach to reducing its environmental footprint.

As described on the web page for the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative: “Implementing the Three Zeros goals will improve operational efficiency, generate cost savings and will create a living-learning laboratory for students, faculty and staff to study and advance the most recent developments in sustainability policy and technology.”

This is not some abstract concept. It is about the future physical, financial, social, intellectual and emotional health of this campus and the planet. As numerous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have shown, time is running out for us to prevent future climate-related catastrophes. At Carolina, we must do our part, and Three Zeros Day is helping to raise awareness and encourage action.

At the Gillings School, some remarkable people, particularly in Environmental Sciences and Engineering, are leaders in this work locally and globally. We are stepping up our game school wide, thanks to Brent Wishart, our facilities manager, and passionate students who are pushing for progress.

Here are a few of the things we are doing, in addition to the usual recycling efforts.

  1. We provide support to the UNC Water Institute, which has a worldwide focus on safe, accessible water. The new director, Aaron Salzberg, PhD, is already a world leader in this domain, and he will help us stretch further on water. Their annual Water and Health conference is this week. See below for more about it.
  2. Our May 2019 commencement celebration at the School was zero waste. Based on our experience, we have developed recommendations for compostable dinner ware and utensils for school events.
  3. There now are nine water bottle filling stations for water across the school, and several more to come.
  4. After December 1, 2019, we are no longer providing water in plastic bottles at our events.
  5. Within the next few weeks, we will have a contract with a composting contractor and compost receptacles around the school. (See discussion of composting below.)
  6. Renovations throughout the school now include installation of LED lighting and occupancy sensors.
  7. We actively seek out products made with recycled materials.  A great example is a bulletin board made with 90% post-consumer recycled tires and 75% post-consumer aluminum.
  8. We were the first unit on campus with a bike loan program. We have since joined the campus program, called Tar Heel Bikes.
  9. We are creating a schoolwide committee to make other recommendations for what we can do to make a greater difference. Environmental sustainability is fundamental to public health, and we can and should do more. We aim to lead the way.

There’s more, and we will provide regular updates on what we are doing.

UNC Water and Health Conference 2019

Dr. Aaron Salzberg led a myth-busting panel discussion at the UNC Water and Health conference.

Today I attended the first afternoon of the UNC Water and Health Conference, now 10 years old. It was amazing to see more than 600 people from all over the world focused on the important topic, “Where science meets policy.” Coming from the cancer control domain, it was very interesting to hear people arguing (civilly) about some of the same issues we have debated; for example, an over-reliance on randomized clinical trials when researchers really are trying to understand what happens in the real world, failure to involve people from communities in defining questions and similar issues. As a field, cancer control is more well-funded by research agencies, so I suspect that may explain why the field may have gotten to these questions sooner. We need more cross-talk across fields.

WaSH is so important to the future of the planet. I am grateful to Kaida Liang, director of projects for the UNC Water Institute, for her leadership role in planning these conferences, and to our new director and Holzworth Distinguished Professor, Aaron Salzberg, PhD, for his leadership. The conference began with a fascinating myth-busting session which Aaron led. Panelists were brilliant leaders in the field with lots of wit and wisdom. The audience is filled with leaders and practitioners, entrepreneurs and academics. Follow the conference at #UNCwaterandhealth. There are hundreds of fascinating talks and events, and still time to show up at the Friday  Center and register for those in town.

Everyone must be involved.

This cannot be the effort of a few people. Everyone has a part to play. No matter who you are or what you do, it may be one of the most important contributions you will make. What will you do? You can share your ideas for Three Zeros projects here.

Why compost?

From Cornell University comes the following insights and information about composting in schools.

Composting is a topic of growing interest in schools throughout the country. Why compost? There are a number of reasons.

Composting provides a partial solution to an issue of great concern in many communities. All around the country, landfills are filling up, garbage incineration is becoming increasingly unpopular, and other waste disposal options are becoming ever harder to find.

Composting provides a way not only to reduce the amount of waste that needs to be disposed of, but also to convert it into a product that is useful for gardening, landscaping or growing house plants.

By addressing the solid waste issue, composting provides a way of instilling in students a sense of environmental stewardship. Many educational programs focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling our solid wastes. Composting fits in with this idea but takes it a step beyond.

The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.