Garret K. Woodward: Sustainable Academia: Appalachian State University Leads the Way

Though Appalachian State University has always been at the forefront of sustainability, the academic institution took another step forward with its latest P3 project.

A public-private partnership (P3), the project will develop energy-efficient housing on its campus in Boone. The design is currently planned to replace seven residence halls at an estimated cost of $191 million.

“This a large housing project which will be pursuing Green Built Homes certification,” said Lee Ball, chief sustainability officer for App State. “As far as settling on the certification, we usually try to build to some form of certification. Our developer team actually decided to do Green Built Homes instead of the LEED green building program’s certification.”

Ball was pleased the developer team opted to work towards Green Built Homes, knowing well it would be a tougher road for such a massive construction project, but worth it in the long run.

“Green Built Homes is a little harder than LEED,” Ball said. “The developer team made that commitment and that’s great. They’re going through all the credits and conquering their learning curve with this first building currently under construction.”

Since App State falls within the University of North Carolina System’s 17 campuses, the school initially sought and received the blessing from the UNC Board of Governors to proceed with the project.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to policy and resources,” Ball said. “And we will show the rest of the system that it’s possible and has economic benefits as well.”

The board’s approval was a vote of confidence in a turning tide of interest in green building and sustainability at a commercial and academic level.

“I knew we couldn’t greenwash this project as we went down this road,” he said. “In terms of energy efficiency, we’re at the very top. And with academics, we’re also in the top. We’ve been number one before with our sustainability.”

Since its inception in 1899, there’s always been a component of sustainability at App State. It’s a core principle at the school, which has evolved into numerous avenues of green initiatives — on campus and off.

“That’s where we really shine, which is sustainability in the classroom — it’s what we’re really known for,” Ball said. “We’ve had a composting program on campus for over 20 years and have solar panels on our roofs. We have a green fund where the students pay money to support renewable energy projects. Everywhere you turn there’s something going on.”

Each year, App State hosts the Appalachian Energy Summit, a gathering of UNC system schools and other regional institutions to discuss new and evolving green practices, all while comparing notes on where each is in their campus sustainability plans. “The students come together in Boone and share the best practices around for clean energy and energy efficiency — it’s a pretty transformational event,” Ball said. “Our goal right now is to save the UNC system $2 billion by 2022 and $5 billion by 2025. And we’re on track [with over $800 million saved already].”

Another side of sustainability App State is known for is its University Solar Vehicle team. The university-sponsored team has built two solar-powered cars that are tested and raced around the world.

“Sustainability is in our DNA,” Ball said. “It’s something that faculty and students have valued strongly, and it’s bubbled up into leadership as well. We’ve stuck a flag in the ground as a sustainability school in the UNC system.”

To learn more about the green initiatives at App State, visit  

You can also view this article as it was originally published on pages 40-41 in the 2019-2020 edition of the directory.