UNC Greensboro launches carbon offset program

Posted on April 14, 2023

Students gather around an Earth Day banner.

UNC Greensboro’s (UNCG) Office of Sustainability is calling for collective action from employees, students, and alumni to help reduce the University’s carbon footprint and improve housing conditions for Guilford County residents. 

The new Spartan DRIVE Fund (Drivers Reducing Individual Vehicle Emissions) invites campus stakeholders to contribute $15 annually to offset their commuter emissions – with a goal of raising $10,000 each year. A carbon offset is a reduction or removal of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses in one place in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.

Employees who bike, bus, walk or work from home can still contribute $15 a year to offset a student’s emissions.

Participants are also encouraged to offset emissions from past years. However long you’ve been working at UNCG, if you drive a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, you have contributed to our emissions every year. UNCG has been measuring its carbon footprint since 2009. The average UNCG commuter is responsible for 1 ton of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions every year just for their travel to and from campus, which added up to 11,870 tons in FY22 or approximately 18 percent of the university’s total carbon footprint.

UNCG’s carbon footprint has three major contributors: emissions from employee and student commuters; the generation of electricity purchased from Duke Energy (32 percent); and the emissions from fuels like natural gas, gasoline, and propane burned on campus for energy (30 percent).

Aerial view of campus shows cars arriving and students walking.

Ten percent of all funds raised will support Community Housing Solutions (CHS), a local non-profit that provides critical home repairs, including weatherization improvements to to Guilford County homeowners, who are at or under 80 percent of the poverty line. The repairs result in an average savings of 25 percent per month for the homeowner and a savings of approximately $600-$700 per year. These repairs directly reduce the severe cost burden experienced by so many low-income families in Greensboro. 

“Community Housing Solutions is focused on providing critical home repairs to homeowners with limited incomes. By making homes warmer, drier and safer, we can help preserve home ownership, reduce energy usage/costs, and improve the overall quality of life for these Guilford County families in need,” said Cheryl Brandberg, Development Director. 

DRIVE Fund donors will also have the opportunity to volunteer every semester to work on one of the homes sponsored by the program, giving Spartans the opportunity to put the University’s motto of service into action.

“There is a spirit of collaboration and partnership in our work,” Brandberg said. “We rely on volunteers and supporters to help make these homes safe, decent, healthy, and affordable places to live. We are excited to partner with UNCG’s Spartan DRIVE Fund to reduce greenhouse gasses on campus and improve energy efficiency for our homeowners in need.”

The rest of the funds raised will be invested in energy efficiency projects on campus. 

“If we were to participate in a traditional carbon offset program it would mean sending our money off-campus and supporting the development of renewable energy elsewhere in a utility grid we’re not even connected to, ” said Sean MacInnes, UNCG Sustainability Specialist. “By investing in our campus we’re taking care of our own house. These energy reductions will be permanent and lead to a better quality of life in a place where we spend the majority of our days working and studying.”

UNCG participates in the State’s Utility Savings Carry Forward program (HB 1292), allowing the university to reinvest avoided utility costs achieved from energy efficiency projects implemented on state property. To date, UNCG Facilities has saved over $5.7 million dollars in avoided costs since 2015 by participating in the program. They saved $1.1 million in 2022 alone.

“UNCG’s Department of Facilities Operations has done a remarkable job over the years and their efforts are responsible for half of the emissions reductions we’ve achieved so far. It’s where we make the biggest difference,” says MacInnes. 

Projects funded by the Spartan DRIVE Fund will contribute to the university’s HB 1292 participation and will continue to pay dividends a decade from now. The average return on investment for many energy efficient projects on campus is approximately 5 years. 

The UNC System Sustainability Policy directs universities to become carbon neutral by 2050. UNC Greensboro has achieved a 14 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) since 2009.

The Spartan DRIVE Fund has a goal of raising $10,000, annually. Participants should designate an annual $15 contribution and are also encouraged to offset emissions from past years. UNCG has been measuring its carbon footprint since 2009. However long you’ve been working at UNCG, if you drive a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, you have contributed to our emissions every year. 

The mission of UNCG’s Office of Sustainability is to encourage and support the development and implementation of sustainable practices in administrative units of the university and create a meaningful link between academics and operations that supports use of the campus as a teaching laboratory. UNC Greensboro is recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education as one of the country’s most environmentally friendly universities. UNCG has also been designated as a Tree Campus by the Arbor Day Foundation and a Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists.

Photography courtesy of Sean MacInnes, Office of Sustainability


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