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.