Skip to main content

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a long and distinguished tradition of environmental research, dating back nearly 200 years. It began with Professors Denison Olmsted and Elisha Mitchell, who helped found natural science programs at Carolina and prepared the nation’s first geological survey. The scope of environmental study here has expanded considerably over time. A major addition to the campus came in the 1920s with the development of a program in sanitary engineering that eventually formed the core of one of the nation’s first truly interdisciplinary departments of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, now located in the School of Public Health.

Today, there are programs throughout the campus, covering literally every aspect of environmental study. The UNC Institute for the Environment helps these individual departments and centers join together in interdisciplinary research, education and engagement, and creates new areas of study in response to some of our most pressing environmental challenges.

Our society faces serious environmental challenges. Global warming is gaining recognition as the most serious issue of our time, impacting literally every part of the earth’s system. It, in turn, is linked to the burning of carbon-based fuels to produce our electricity, power our transportation systems, and heat and cool our homes and other buildings. And the availability of cheap fossil-fuel energy has had a dramatic, and unsustainable, impact on the design of our structures and our communities.

Our lifestyles also impact our health, and the health of the environment around us. Our transportation systems and power plants send particulates and other pollutants into the environment. Our parking lots, lawns, farms, golf courses and other sources pollute our streams, rivers and waterways.

The old environmental solutions – command and control regulation of specific pollutants and point sources – will not solve these problems. Every one of us is partially responsible for these challenges – and every one of us must play a role in solving them.

The UNC Institute for the Environment is leading UNC’s world-renowned environmental community in developing solutions to these critical challenges. In doing so, it educates future environmental leaders and engages with the people of North Carolina and the nation to address and solve environmental challenges.