University Sustainability

Defining Sustainability since 1899

The Appalachian Energy Summit

History and Timeline

Appalachian understands the significance of sustainable practices to the financial bottom line. In 2018, we hosted the seventh annual Appalachian Energy Summit. Because of the work at this summit, to date, campuses of the University of North Carolina System — together with industry partners — have avoided nearly $800 million in utility costs. We expect to avoid energy costs to the tune of $1 billion by 2020 and $2 billion by the year 2025.

“Lets do something big.”

In late fall of 2011 Kenan Smith, ’84, and Hayes Smith,’82, came to Boone to talk about energy.  The brothers  — both dedicated supporters of the university —  settled into a small conference room in the Design and Construction department and began a conversation with then Director of Sustainability Ged Moody and Mike O’Connor, director of the Physical Plant. The outcome was the seed of an idea that would become the first annual Appalachian Energy Summit, held on the campus of Appalachian State University the following summer, 2012.

“After we talked for a while,” Moody said,  “Kenan and Hayes recognized what we at Appalachian already knew: our campus was already very good at energy reduction and sustainability. During a pause in the conversation Kenan put his hands on the table and said,  ‘Let’s do something big.’ The idea of hosting an energy summit for the system was born. “

The goal for the Summit as defined over the next few months, was to jump-start a national transformative effort across higher education. Embraced by UNC General Administration as a system-wide initiative, objectives include:

  • Educate our students to be leaders of tomorrow;
  • Reduce and stabilize the UNC system's average annual energy expenditures;
  • Transform and stimulate the North Carolina economy;
  • Position our colleagues in the UNC system and private universities as national leaders;
  • Create a culture of environmental and economic sustainability. 

Invited guests attend the three-day summit for free and optional resident hall accommodations are provided. The event is paid for by individual and corporate sponsors and does not require any state funding.

The Summit is on track to save the state $1 billion by 2020, $2 billion by 2025 in avoided energy costs. In 2013-14 the state spent over $233 million on utility costs, or approximately $1000 per student. That same year the AES reported $103 million in avoided utility costs; $499 million to date.

Think bigger.

“For year five [of the summit] we are working hard to truly leverage the success we have had on the campuses beyond just saving. ” Moody said.  “The important conversations and energy innovations that have been happening in North Carolina can have positively disruptive benefits globally. The university system and Appalachian are creating collaborations and achieving successes that show how higher education can lead first in energy then broaden that scope to address the biggest challenges that face our world – sustainability.” Kenan Smith concurs. “ We have 20,000 students now at Appalachian,” he said. “As we reach out to other systems, other states, other countries. . .  suddenly you have 2 to 3 million students talking together. That’s the power for change. That’s big.”


Fall 2011

The idea is born. The Smith brothers, Moody and O’Connor meet and plan “something big.” At a follow-up meeting two weeks later a team comprised of Department of Sustainable Technologies and the Built Environment Director Jeff Ramsdell, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Susan Pettyjohn, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Greg Lovins, the Smith brothers, Moody and O’Connor rough out the concept and structure for the first Appalachian Energy Summit

January 2012

Following an introduction by Fred and Alice Stanback, avid supporters of Appalachian, the leadership group travels to Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). In meetings with RMI Chief Scientist Amory Lovins and Marty Pickett,managing director at RMI and advisory board member for the Center for the Environment at Catawba College, the idea of the summit is solidified and Lovins signs on as keynote speaker. The energy visionary has participated in every summit since and provides on-going leadership and direction.  Pickett is a NC native with “local knowledge of what we were about,” Moody said. “She knew our strengths, both apparent and hidden, and helped translate our potential to RMI. ”
Other key leadership includes David Orr, special assistant to the president, Oberlin College, and Dr. Tom Ross, president of the UNC system.

February 2012

A planning group including other UNC campus energy and sustainability leaders develop a detailed agenda designed to engage and challenge the UNC system, GA and campus leadership – ultimately operating as the University of North Carolina Energy Leadership Challenge.

July 2012

Lovins packs the house at Schaeffer Auditorium in Boone, delivering his “Reinventing Fire” speech at the first Appalachian Energy Summit. UNC President Tom Ross speaks and commits to the system’s full support. He invites each of the system’s chancellors to sign the Leadership Challenge, a commitment to  reducing and stabilizing the university’s average annual energy expenditures, positioning the UNC system as national leaders in sustainability education, and stimulating the North Carolina economy through the support of green energy business infrastructure. Before Summit’s end 100 percent endorse the signatory.

March 2013

First mid-year summit held at North Carolina State University. Working groups around transportation, energy supply and operations, academic integration, financial and regulatory issues, technology integration and building efficiencies formed at 2012 summit gather and report.  Student poster competition  component added to Summit to further engage students in energy issues. “

July 13, 2013

More than 200 guests attend the second annual summit, “Imagine a University…” Lovins once again delivers the keynote and is joined on the agenda by Roger Natsuhara : Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Energy, Installations, & Environment. The first industry panel of corporate energy leaders is introduced. UNC system adopts the goals set in 2012 verbatim and initiates the UNC Leadership challenge.

February 2014

Mid-year summit hosted by North Carolina A & T University.

July 2014

The third annual summit “invites participants to recognize and embrace ‘The Disruption/Innovation Cycle’ precipitated by turbulent times and marked by the innovations that disrupt our time-tested technologies, processes and business models.” Attendance continues to grow with 239 college and university attendees including a record number of  attending chancellors, provosts, and CFOs. David Orr joins Amory Lovins on the dais.

February 2015

Mid year summit hosted by University of North Carolina at Charlotte in recently  LEED certified downtown annex.

July 2015

“ A New State of Energy” is the theme  and 425 guests, the largest and  most geographically expanded attendance ever,  convene once again in Boone. Attending are  80 students, 15 out of state universities, 30 student posters, 15 community colleges, eight states represented, five non profits and 12 industry organizations. Featured speakers are Robert F. Kennedy, keynote, Lovins and Orr.

March 2016

The mid-year summit was hosted by UNC Pembroke.

July 2016

In its fifth year, the AES brings founder and writer Bill McKibben to campus. The keynote, open to the public, includes an armchair discussion between McKibben and RMI’s Amory Lovins. Themed “Knowledge. Collaboration. Action.”, the conference continues to grow, welcoming 450 participants to Boone, and speakers include Oberlin’s David Orr, the Pace Center’s Karl Rabago, the ARC’s Earl F. Gohl, and RMI’s Marty Pickett.

February 2017

The mid-year summit was hosted by Catawba College at the Center for the Environment.

July 2017

Growing and building on previous years, the 2017 Energy Summit focuses on “Perspectives: Policy and Practice,” and features two nights of keynote speakers: former EPA head Gina McCarthy and Peabody Award-winning radio host Majora Carter.  A distinguished program of speakers include Harvard University’s Leith Sharp, Amory Lovins, David Orr, NCSEA’s Ivan Urlaub, UNC’s Carol Rosenfeld, Celtic Energy’s Chris Halpin, and Secretary of NC’s Department of Environmental Quality, Michael Regan. The concurrent Student Summit features the poster competition and speaker Majora Carter, Amory Lovins, and Appalachian State’s Chancellor Dr. Sheri Everts and Provost Dr. Darrell P. Kruger.

February 2018

The 2018 mid-year Summit was hosted by Wake Forest University at the Biotech Place atrium.

July 2018

The seventh Appalachian Energy Summit explores "Leadership for Good" with registration numbers around 500 people including 100 students. NC General Assembly Representative John Szoka leads the opening plenary, with a wide range of engaging speakers including Jennifer Mundt from NCDEQ and the Executive Director of AASHE, Meghan Zahniser.  David Orr and Nicole Miller give inspiring talks to the main Summit and the Student Summit. A special panel on Beneficial Long Term Investing from leaders at the Crane Institute, and a talk about the development of the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech are some of the many highlights of the program. For the first time, the Student Summit features working groups led by students drawn from around the state and a record number of student posters. The usual keynote address on the Monday night is replaced with a special event - eTown visits Boone and the event at the Schaefer Center is a huge success, with the show reaching an audience on radio and podcast across the country.