Rooted values: Appalachian State University’s sustainable leadership is ingrained in its culture

Published on: 
28 Apr 2016
Lee Ball, Sustainability Director, ASU

The Climate Leadership Awards are presented by USGBC’s Center for Green Schools and Second Nature. The awards recognize innovative and advanced leadership in sustainability, climate mitigation and resilience at signatory campuses in the climate leadership network. USGBC caught up with last year’s honoree in the Four-Year Institution category, Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., to check on their progress and accomplishments to date. 

Sustainability at Appalachian State University is a tradition, not a trend. Rooted in the heart of the southern Appalachian mountains, the university emerged a century ago as an institution aligned with many values of the local mountain culture. Learning to do more with less and adapting to change have contributed to Appalachian State’s campus culture, which strongly values sustainability and resiliency.  

As a recipient of the 2015 Climate Leadership Award, the university continues to deliver on its mission to prepare students to lead purposeful lives as engaged, global citizens. We take pride in promoting a spirit of inclusion that leads to meaningful relationships extending well beyond graduation. Students are trained to think critically, communicate effectively, make local-to-global connections and understand the responsibilities of community engagement. They embrace their obligation to help create healthy, just and sustainable societies through knowledge, compassion, dedication, humility and dignity. 

The university’s strategic plan reinforces these values, which prioritize sustainability and commitment of resources needed to succeed and positions us to continue our work as a climate and sustainability leader. Appalachian State has some of the oldest sustainability degree programs in the country, with over 1,700 hundred courses across the graduate and undergraduate curriculum that are sustainability-focused or -related.

Our chancellor, Dr. Sheri Everts, provides the strategic direction for our collective efforts, which included becoming a charter signatory of the new Second Nature Climate, Carbon, and Resilience Pledge. She also signed the White House Climate Pledge and attended the White House Climate Day of Action in 2015. 

With one of the highest sustainability rankings in the country (AASHE/STARS), we at Appalachian State are continuously looking for ways to improve the sustainability of our community. One example is the university’s sustainability council, comprising over 80 campus participants, that includes faculty, staff and students and works to integrate and institutionalize green practices throughout the campus.

Our current goal is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, but are developing plans to reach this target much sooner. Since 2005, Appalachian State has reduced energy consumption by 34 percent and cut water usage by 50 percent. There is also a minimum standard of LEED Silver on all new buildings and major renovations, and the past three projects have been awarded LEED Gold. 

Other climate initiatives:

  • Our Carbon Neutral Commuter program, which encourages commuters to purchase carbon offsets and has experienced higher-than-expected adoption rates just two years into the program.
  • The campus Zero Waste program encourages and promotes climate awareness through the reduction and diversion of waste on campus. Our growing compost program is expected to produce 250 tons of compost at its on-campus facility during the 2016–2017 academic year.
  • Students contribute and actively help with campus carbon neutrality goals. The Renewable Energy Initiative is responsible for allocating money for the implementation of renewable projects on campus, one of which is a 100 KW wind turbine that has become an icon for the local community.
  • Appalachian State also facilitates the Appalachian Energy Summit and leads the UNC system in an effort to reduce energy expenditures, transform energy utilization and reduce the environmental impacts of both higher education and the state. The project is on track to save $1 billion by 2020. 

Learning by doing and leading by example are central to Appalachian State’s focus on sustainability. There is much work left to be done, but the strong engagement and dedication of our faculty, staff and student community make it possible to rise to the challenge.