20 Years of Sustainability Awards

This year’s NC State Sustainability Awards mark two decades of recognizing outstanding achievements in sustainability on campus and beyond. Since its inception in 2004 as the Green Brick Awards, the program has celebrated 80 recipients. Over the years, the program has expanded its scope beyond students, staff and faculty to also include departments, organizations and campus innovation. 

Student Champions

Students at NC State have been a driving force in the university’s sustainability success. The first student Sustainability Award recognized environmental resources graduate student Becky Jo Townsend in 2004. Townsend was an integral member of the College of Natural Resources’ outreach program and research focused on how the campus community informs itself about environmental issues.

This tradition of celebrating students’ contributions to sustainability both inside and out of the classroom has continued throughout the years. Last year’s recipient, Alie Akins, a nuclear engineering undergraduate, was selected based on her research, development of an AI-based anomaly detection algorithm and participation in the student leadership program, Sustainability Stewards. As a Steward, Akins led initiatives for infrastructure projects, including the Solar Space at Gardner Arboretum and Campus Green Havens projects, as well as the Energy and Water Competition for students. 

Faculty Trailblazers

The Sustainability Awards have honored faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to sustainability in their respective fields for the past 20 years. The inaugural recipient, Dr. Herbert M. Eckerlin, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, helped found one of the nation’s leading renewable energy centers, the NC Clean Energy Technology Center and the NC Solar House, a renewable energy demonstration home. 

Last year’s recipient, Dr. Karen Leonas, a professor in the Wilson College of Textiles, was selected for her development of courses and research that promote a circular economy for the textile industry in both North Carolina and the world. 

Seven colleges have been represented thus far for their outstanding faculty, including College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College of Design, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Natural Resources, Poole College of Management and the Wilson College of Textiles. These faculty members have played a vital role in shaping sustainability education and research at NC State, leading to state and global impact.

Dedicated Staff

Staff also play a crucial role in sustainable campus operations, communications and overall planning. The first staff member recognized was current employee, Nessa Stone, in 2004. Nominated for her work as the operations manager for NC State Waste Reduction and Recycling, Stone’s program development and leadership led to numerous local, state and national waste management awards. Stone has continued to be at the forefront of university planning and development as part of the Facilities Design and Construction department.

The 2024 recipient, Laurel Krynock, GIS Administrator in the Facilities Division, has continued this legacy of sustainable campus development. Selected for her professional role which directly impacts campus sustainability, Laurel also mentors students for the GIS graduate certificate program, including a GIS-based mobile application to manage campus trees, a GIS model to identify optimal locations for electric vehicle charging stations and a GIS-based tool to track and manage pollinator habitats on campus.

Expanding the Awards’ Reach

Departments and student organizations were added to the Awards’ categories in 2014. The inaugural recipient, the Alumni Association Student Ambassador Program, was selected for incorporating sustainability into NC State’s Homecoming events. 

Later student groups recognized include the 2024 NC State Turtle Rescue Team, dedicated to providing free medical, surgical and husbandry services to over 300 wild turtles, reptiles and amphibians each year in the hope of releasing them back into the wild. Other student groups have been the Waste Reduction Committee of the Sustainability Stewards (2016), Food Recovery Network (2017), Engineers Without Borders (2018), Zero Waste Wolves (2020) and Feed the Pack (2021).

Campus departments and groups have also been recognized through the years, with the first being NC State’s Students Centers (2015) for their work to certify Talley Student Union for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Other groups have included the Agroecology Education Farm (2016), Landscape Architecture Department (2019), Social Innovation Fellows (2020), University Housekeeping (2021) and most recently, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems Business and Events Team (2022).

Innovative Projects and Impactful Results

Innovation and impact, which recognizes the outstanding achievement of a sustainability-related project and its results, was added as an award category in 2017. That year’s winner was the Zero Waste Workplace, a waste diversion program that focuses on source reduction, increased recycling and expanded composting in administrative campus spaces.

Other projects recognized have been a Food and Housing Security Among NC State Students initiative (2018), an Energy Storage Study for North Carolina (2019), a LEED Lab Course teaching students about the built environment’s impact on sustainability (2020), the Wilson College of Textiles Sustainability Committee’s efforts to divert landfill through water bottle refill states and a textile recycling program (2021), the Facilities Division Commissioning Team for optimizing mechanical systems (2022), and most recently, Landscape Services (2023) for their sustainable maintenance of 1,200 acres on campus.

A Culture of Sustainability

The Sustainability Awards have played a crucial role in cultivating a culture of sustainability at NC State. By recognizing the achievements of NC State’s people, projects and impact, the Sustainability Awards showcases the diverse and interconnected efforts required for a truly sustainable campus.
Nominations for the 20th anniversary of the Sustainability Awards close Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 11:59 pm. Nominate those people, organizations and projects that keep NC State’s legacy of sustainability going strong for years. Nominate Today