Zach Walker is a junior physics major from Raleigh and recipient of the inaugural Three Zeros Environmental Initiative Student Leadership Award. The award recognizes a student who is making an outstanding contribution to the Chancellor’s Three Zeros Environmental Initiative, which commits the University to net-zero water use, zero waste to landfill and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
As Co-Chair of the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee (RESPC) at Carolina, Zach helps allocate over $230,000 of funds each year from the University’s Green Fee into renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on campus. Last year, as a member of RESPC, Zach was critical in developing the Efficient Freezer Rebate Program. The program funds part of the cost of purchasing an energy efficient freezer for labs. It saves 5,930 kWh per freezer per year, which is almost as much energy as a three person household uses in a year.
Was there any one moment in particular that sparked your passion for sustainability?
One of the big things is that I always wanted to do technology or science, but I didn’t necessarily know how to make that fulfilling for me. I remember sophomore year seeing RESPC and thinking, “Oh, this is the work I can do that’s also fulfilling to my interest in science and technology.” I think that was the “aha” moment for me.
What inspires your work with RESPC?
I think it’s a few things. I think the biggest one is that with RESPC, as opposed to a lot of organizations I’ve worked with in the past, I can see the impact happening. The projects are materialized things that I can point to and say, “This is something we worked on, this is something that we did.” It’s the same thing with the Efficient Freezer Rebate. Being able to see labs actually get efficient freezers and say, “We did that,” is really inspiring and it makes me want to do more of it. I also think everyone in RESPC is so motivated and cares about the mission so greatly and wants to get things done, which is really inspiring.
What is the Efficient Freezer Rebate program?
We can’t expect labs to not continue to operate – they do so much important work. But they also contribute so much to the energy use of the university, so if we can help them make as little of an impact as they can, it’s a win-win for the university. RESPC now offers rebates for labs purchasing high-efficiency freezers, which are more expensive, but better for the environment. That encourages labs to buy the more expensive, environmentally friendly model.
What inspires you to move the needle on Three Zeros?
It’s the people. I think it’s really awesome that the University actually cares about the goals and it seems like the faculty here is really into engaging students and they want us to succeed and give us a lot of resources to do that. And so having these really ambitious goals and being willing to meet with students and help them get past barriers we may have is really great. So that really inspires me. Having the means to make change inspires me.
How does it feel to win the inaugural Three Zeros Environmental Initiative Student Leadership Award?
It feels awesome. Everyone involved with the Initiative cares so much and wants people to succeed, and the University wants to recognize people doing things involving Three Zeros. Part of why I’ve continued to do renewable energy is that people care so much and want to recognize those who do things. It’s not even the award for myself that’s really awesome, it’s that the University cares so much that they’re making an award and they’re having Three Zeros Day that the whole University is celebrating and that not only Chancellor Folt was there celebrating, but also so many great people who aren’t even necessarily involved in the sustainability movement.
By: Maddie Omeltchenko