BOONE, N.C. — Just over a year after releasing AppCAP 1.0: A Vision for Climate Neutrality — Appalachian State University’s latest climate action plan — the university reports progress toward its goals through energy and sustainability improvements across campus.
Dr. Lee Ball, chief sustainability officer at App State, said, “We are making headway toward decarbonization thanks to our strong universitywide commitment to climate action.”
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce carbon emissions in ways that minimize any negative effects on people and places,” Ball added.
AppCap 1.0, serving as a roadmap to guide App State toward climate neutrality, identifies and tracks progress for 81 action items identified as part of the university’s response to the climate crisis. Action items are grouped into three areas of focus:
- Sourcing — including campus energy systems and the campus vehicle fleet.
- Efficiency — including design and construction of new buildings and improvements in existing infrastructure.
- Behavioral and institutional change — including interactions with end users of energy, purchasing policies, transportation and commuting choices; travel considerations; and waste disposal.
During the past year, the university reported notable sustainability achievements in each of the three focus areas.
Boosting the university’s percentage of electricity supplied by renewables from 2% to 18%, through hydroelectric and solar power purchases via App State-owned New River Light and Power (NRLP) and Blue Ridge Energy (BRE), respectively. NRLP is purchasing emissions-free, renewable hydropower from the 375-megawatt Smoky Mountain portfolio, consisting of four hydropower facilities located along the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in Tennessee and North Carolina. App State also has an agreement with BRE to convert the purchased electricity for Levine Hall of Health Sciences — the university’s largest building in Boone — to 100% solar, avoiding the use of approximately 1,500–1,600 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, said Jonathan Pierson ’06 ’08, energy manager in App State’s Facilities Operations.
Decarbonizing App State’s purchased electricity footprint, which accounts for approximately 40% of campuswide greenhouse gas emissions, is a key strategy identified in the climate action plan. App State and NRLP continue to explore additional options for renewable energy, including solar.
App State’s Renewable Energy Initiative (REI) — a student-led organization that seeks to install renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus — voted to fund the purchase of solar for additional university facilities serviced by BRE, including the App State Water Plant, Howards Creek Pump Station, Dark Sky Observatory and Blackburn Vannoy Farm. The university will avoid the use of about 425 megawatt-hours of electricity per year as a result of the conversion, Pierson said.
“This initiative is just one way App State students are helping create and implement the vision for sustainability on our campus and in our community,” Ball said.
- Expanding the university’s electric vehicle fleet — with App State’s first fully electric Parking and Transportation vehicle now in operation — and installing new electric car charging stations in the Legends parking lot. Through a collaboration of AppalCART and App State, AppalCART received more than $1 million in grant funds toward the purchase of an electric bus and charging station, which will potentially come online this summer.
- Forming the Campus Energy Council — comprising university leaders in finance, sustainability, facility operations and energy who meet regularly to discuss large-scale energy solutions and determine how to fund them. Pierson said, “Bringing together decision-makers with people who have expertise in various energy topics allows us to identify and capitalize on efficiency measures that involve coordination among departments across campus.”
In 2021, App State crossed the $30.3 million mark in avoided energy cost savings — contributing to more than $1 billion in avoided energy costs between 2002 and 2019 by University of North Carolina System institutions. The utility savings goal was set in 2012 during the Appalachian Energy Summit and the expectation is that the System will realize $2 billion in avoided costs by 2025, Ball said.
The three-day annual summit, envisioned and hosted by App State since 2012, will meet June 8–10, gathering faculty, staff and students from colleges and universities, as well as energy managers and government and industry leaders. The event offers “solution-oriented content to help the university progress toward its climate action goals,” Ball said.
New residence halls are constructed according to Green Built Alliance standards. Sustainable features include automated systems, LED lighting, tree planting, energy- and water-efficient appliances, air sealing and insulation and sustainable materials that meet stringent indoor air quality standards.
The construction of the new residence halls — Thunder Hill, Raven Rocks, Laurel Creek and New River, the latter of which is slated to open this fall — has allowed App State to add green space on campus. The university maintains more than 900 acres of land that serve as carbon sinks — areas that absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release. Renovations to existing buildings also include energy efficiency improvements as a standard consideration, Ball said.
- Reviewing concepts for carbon-free, renewable energy sources and building designs in App State’s Innovation District, for which the university ceremoniously broke ground in March. Powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar, the district’s infrastructure will be carbon-zero — emitting no greenhouse gasses that would contribute to global warming.
- Completing building renovations with energy efficiency improvements, including those to Sanford Hall, which included new windows and updated HVAC and electrical systems.
- Converting several buildings on campus to LED lighting, with plans to transition all campus buildings to LED — generating energy savings that will recoup the cost of conversion in three to five years, Pierson said.
- Using funding from a state program (House Bill 1292) — which allows UNC System institutions to apply energy savings to new initiatives — App State electricians are in the process of converting approximately 2,000 light fixtures in the Holmes Convocation Center to LED lighting. This project will generate savings of 300,000 kilowatt-hours a year — equivalent to the amount of electricity used by about 25 houses.
REI funded an LED lighting retrofit project in the ROTC offices in Varsity Gym. Fauna Jorgensen, a sophomore from Cameron majoring in sustainable development-agroecology and sustainable agriculture, led the project. Working with Pierson, Jorgensen performed a lighting assessment and calculated the return on investment, estimating that the cost of conversion would be recouped in approximately five years.
Jorgensen expressed her enthusiasm for her work with REI, which contributed to reducing the university's energy consumption by an estimated 20,000 kilowatts per year. “It has been an incredibly meaningful experience to do my part as a human living on our beautiful planet,” Jorgensen said. “I can now say I helped lessen the environmental impact of App State.”
- Planning a sustainability audit to assess energy and efficiency needs for the App State Hickory Campus building renovations.
Installing ceramic window film in Chapell Wilson Hall and the Reich College of Education building, funded by REI and the House Bill 1292 program, respectively. The window film blocks out 99.9% of ultraviolet rays and about 80% of the infrared heat coming through the windows during the summer, resulting in lower air conditioning costs and longer life for carpets and furniture, which are damaged by the sun’s rays.
Hermes Flores Fernandez, from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, is an App State senior sustainable technology major and REI’s project management co-chair. He said his team of students analyzed contractors’ quotes to project the return on investment for the window film installation, estimating a two- to four-year payback.
“It feels amazing to be part of energy efficiency improvement projects on our campus and to get closer to our carbon neutrality goals,” Fernandez said.
REI is evaluating additional window film projects — in Kidd Brewer Stadium and in McKinney Alumni Center — for potential installation later this year.
Behavioral and institutional change
- Launching GreenSuite, a collection of new and continuing awareness and engagement programs that guide the App State Community toward sustainable living. GreenSuite programs address behavioral and operational solutions for individuals or departments — from considering personal food and energy choices, to collaborating with the Office of Sustainability, to incorporating green choices in event planning.
Establishing purchasing guidelines to promote procurement of environmentally preferred and socially responsible products. The Office of Sustainability is partnering with the Materials Management Division in the Finance and Administration Departments and with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to continue training office staff across campus in sustainable purchasing strategies.
“We are committed and actively working to improve the university’s sustainable purchasing practices,” Ball said. “We are also actively working to support more local businesses — including those owned by women and by people who identify as being from underrepresented populations — which is in line with statewide efforts to promote economic opportunities for historically underutilized businesses.”
- Developing new carbon offset opportunities for App State’s study abroad program and other university-related air and ground travel activities. App State’s Carbon Neutral Commuter Program has supported the university’s climate action goals, with 6,852 Mountaineers participating — helping eliminate about 15,000 tons of carbon — since the program’s inception in 2014.
- Implementing the Skip the Bag program, which kept nearly 68,000 plastic bags out of the local landfill in fall 2021.
- Expanding on-campus composting — an initiative begun more than 20 years ago — to include additional dropoff locations across campus, including dining areas, Sanford Mall and academic buildings, with staff and faculty encouraged to make use of these collection sites.
- Sourcing App State’s official commencement regalia to use a fabric produced from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. For ceremonies this spring, this change will result in diverting nearly 100,000 plastic bottles from the landfill.
“App State is passionate about our ongoing sustainability initiatives, and we are driven to build upon our progress and continually improve,” Ball said. “In the coming year, we will identify additional strategies that are both cost-effective and impactful. Individually and collectively, we can make real and powerful differences for our campus today, and in the future.”
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About Sustainability at Appalachian
Appalachian State University’s leadership in sustainability is known nationally. The university’s holistic, three-branched approach considers sustainability economically, environmentally and equitably in relationship to the planet’s co-inhabitants. The university is an active steward of the state’s interconnected financial, cultural and natural resources and challenges students and others think critically and creatively about sustainability and what it means from the smallest individual action to the most broad-based applications. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate academic degree programs that focus on sustainability. In addition, 100 percent of Appalachian’s academic departments offer at least one sustainability course or course that includes sustainability, and all students graduate from programs that have adopted at least one sustainability learning outcome. Learn more at https://appstate.edu/sustainability.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.