The Three Zeros Environmental Initiative is Carolina’s integrated approach to reducing its environmental footprint through three sustainability goals: net zero water usage; zero waste to landfills; and net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Implementing the Three Zeros goals will improve operational and budgetary efficiency 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. Three Zeros includes everything from individual behaviors to world-changing research and collaborations. Learn more about Three Zeros and submit your own ideas.
  • Net zero water usage means finding ways to reduce the use of drinking water and expand the use of reclaimed water (treated wastewater for non-drinking purposes).
  • Zero waste to landfills calls for reducing the materials coming onto campus and maximizing efforts to reuse, recycle and compost.
  • Net zero greenhouse gas emissions focuses on minimizing the use of hydrocarbons (such as coal, petroleum and natural gas); switching to renewable energy sources wherever practical; and increasing building energy efficiency.
Three Zeros is a pan-campus initiative meant to be a guiding vision for all members of the campus community. Everyone including, students, faculty and staff are meant to be working on achieving by altering their day-to-day activities to reduce water use, waste production and greenhouse gas emissions. The main coordinators for the Three Zeros Environmental Inititative are UNC’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Brad Ives, and the UNC Sustainability Office but various departments work on each zero. Net zero water use is overseen by two campus departments, Energy Services, who manage the potable and non-potable water utility and Energy Management, who look after building-level water use. The zero waste to landfill goal is most directly managed by the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling. Procurement Services also plays a role in managing the inbound waste coming onto campus. Both Energy Services and Energy Management, as well as Transportation and Parking are also responsible for the net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal.

The Three Zeros Environmental Inititative also has a student representative, Elizabeth Harvell ’17, who is working with student groups to align their missions with the Three Zeros goals and doing research for the Three Zeros team.

The Three Zeros Communications Working Group works on communications and outreach for the initiative, updating the website and producing Three Zeros-related content.

The Initiative was officially launched in the fall of 2016, but has it’s origins back in the Sustainability planning process started in 2014. Learn more about the rest of the Sustainability Plan and how it is changing campus.
Although there were several other focus areas in the original Sustainability Plan, these three goals were chosen because of their discrete, measurable nature. With water, waste and energy, UNC can easily track flows and measure progress in a numerical fashion. Additionally, these goals have exciting synergies, allowing one project to result in multiple benefits. One such example is the removal of the campus dining hall trays. Not only did this reduce food waste (and the associated methane emissions related to its landfilling) by limiting the amount of food a student could take to what they could fit on a single plate, it also reduced water use, as the trays no longer had to be washed.
A new campus project has turned a frequently flooded field near McIver Residence Hall into a small above-ground stream. Before the project was completed, water from the creek was contained by an underground pipe and concrete ditch. The field’s stream naturally filters pollutants and contaminants from runoff water. The restoration project is one of many stormwater mitigation efforts here on campus to improve water quality further downstream.

Learn more about UNC’s Water Management.

Any student who would like to collect compost in their residence hall room may check out a free compost bin from their RHA office. Once the bin is full of food scraps, students can empty them into green roll-carts located at each dorm community, picked up twice a week by a staff member of the Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling. This compost is then sent to Brooks Composting facility to be made into fertilizer, along with the compost from the on-campus Dining Halls.

Learn more about the Campus Recycling Programs and Activities, like lab recycling, food waste composting and construction/demolition recycling.

Learn more about past waste reduction and recycling projects.

UNC is planning a renewable energy project consisting of a ground-mounted photovoltaic array coupled with a lithium-ion energy storage system. The project will be located on vacant land at Horace Williams Airport. A designer has been selected and initial costs and sizing are being confirmed. The project is fully funded by Energy Services.

Learn more about UNC projects aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.

Learn more about energy supply at UNC.

Learn more about how UNC is incentivizing low-emissions transportation.

Learn more about energy conservation projects like the Winter Holiday Energy Savings Initiative, the Building Optimization Program and Campus Lighting Upgrades.

Every effort you make to reduce the water you use, the materials you throw away and the emissions you produce through energy use and travel advances the Three Zeros Environmental Inititative. If you have a good idea for a Three Zeros Project, please submit it!

If you or an organization you work with would like to learn more about how it can better align your/its work with the Three Zeros Environmental Inititative, please contact Tait Chandler at for more information.