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Capstone Research Project

Capstone Research Projects bring together the education, research and outreach/service missions of the Institute. They are conducted by teams of undergraduate environmental students in their junior or senior years, either on campus or at one of the Institute field sites in North Carolina and abroad. Topics for the projects are selected from recommendations by Community Advisory Boards and other clients and focus on a significant environmental issue requiring broad, interdisciplinary research. The projects are a learning experience for our students, a chance for them to conduct team-based research typical of professional practice and the Institute's way of using the expertise of Carolina to help find solutions to the issues facing communities. We invite you to explore the results of this work through any of the materials provided below. Please contact the Institute for more information on any of these projects or to recommend future projects.

Fall 2013

  • Predator Management for the Protection of Threatened and Endangered Species: A Multidisciplinary Study - This project was completed by students attending the Outer Banks Field Site fall semester program to explore how natural and social pressures inform management decisions and regulations made by the National Park Service (NPS) to protect threatened and endangered species on CHNS. [Final Report]
  • Carolina "Water on our Campus" - Working with Carolina's stormwater engineer, this team first supported a weeklong workshop with a visiting environmental artist with research on campus sites and proposals for water-themed art installations. Then they used historical photos and documents to research campus water history, performed technical analysis and design for a campus rainwater garden, and surveyed students on their campus water knowledge. [Final Report | Appendix | Final Presentation]
  • Conservation and recreation - Together with The Conservation Fund and a northeastern North Carolina county, this team inventoried current and potential sites and facilities for active recreation, and analyzed barriers to their use. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Green Labs - With UNC's Green Labs Committee as client, and with leadership from Carolina's Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, this team created a Green Labs Best Practices Guide customized for UNC; designed supporting materials for labs and lab managers; and developed a detailed long-term vision to serve as a road map to make UNC labs greener and more sustainable. They also produced a detailed internal report on their work, for future interns or capstones. [Vision Memo | Final Presentation]
  • Greenhouse Gas Community Emissions Inventory - A baseline inventory of carbon emissions by Chapel Hill residents produced by this team used published carbon accounting protocols. The Town of Chapel Hill energy and carbon specialist guided this team in generating and documenting the Town's first detailed community-wide emissions inventory, to complement earlier carbon inventories of municipal operations.[Final Report | Final Presentation]

Spring 2013

  • Eco-industrial park feasibility study - Working with expert staff from Durham Department of Solid Waste as well as waste experts from Orange County, this team studied the feasibility of an eco-industrial park, which could co-locate businesses and organizations with compatible activities. Data included waste audits, land use review, and interviews. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Grubs and chickens - Pickards Mountain Eco-Institute, a teaching and demonstration permaculture operation, provided a home base for this team, which assessed the feasibility of using black soldier fly larvae as a pathway for converting organic waste to chicken feed. [Final Report | Final Presentation | How-to Guide]
  • Planning for climate change - Working with New Bern NC planners and a consulting firm, this team evaluated and recommended best management practices to address flooding in two neighborhoods that have experienced chronic flooding and expect more. [Final Report | Final Presentation | 3rd Avenue Pamphlet | K Street Pamphlet]
  • Transportation deserts - Supporting a project funded by NC Department of Transportation, this team learned about traditional metrics for transportation infrastructure and service, and helped assess a new tool to identify transportation-disadvantaged populations. Data included GIS maps of socio-demographic and environmental measures, and key informant and resident interviews. [Final Report | Final Presentation

Fall 2012

  • The Roanoke Island Water System Expansion Project: A Study of Residents' Viewpoints - This project was completed by students attending the Outer Banks Field Site fall semester program who aimed to elucidate Roanoke Island residents' attitudes about the recent expansion of the island's domestic drinking water supply system. The students investigated the history of the water expansion project and determined the attitudes of Roanoke Island residents toward the project via a survey in order to understand how and why the project was implemented and how it was received by the public. [Final Report]
  • Water Quality in the Pine Knoll Shores Residential Canal System [Final Report
  • Emergency planning and sheltering for vulnerable populations - A large team broke into two sub-teams, to conduct vulnerability/strengths assessments at two sites, using a guide developed by Institute for the Environment and MDC Inc. researchers, and field-test a tool developed by a spring 2012 team to assess emergency shelters particularly for vulnerable citizens (e.g., low mobility, car-less, special medical needs, animals, limited English). Data collection and analysis included key informant interviews and a citizen survey, in addition to Census and EPA sources. [Final Report (Cabarrus) | Final Report (Fayetteville) | Final Presentation]
  • Campus carbon sequestration - Working with the UNC emissions specialist, this team estimated the carbon sequestration and pollutant removal potential of several UNC-CH-owned properties, and associated economic benefits. They sampled 0.1 acre plots for parcel tree cover, land use, species ID, and tree characteristics (diameter, height, crown features), and used the data in i-Tree Eco software. [Final Report | Final Presentation | Article by J Randall | i-Tree Ecoreport]
  • Campus rainwater management and conservation - Using an EPA campus rainwater challenge as a framework, this team focused on stormwater management at the Outdoor Education Center. They reviewed best practices; identified problem areas and analyzed the quantity and quality of runoff; and made recommendations on engineering, landscape management, and policy. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Carolina Dining Services and local producers - In order to understand CDS procurement parameters and gauge the interest and needs of local farmers to qualify to supply CDS, this team mapped out a process to better connect local producers and CDS. Data included interviews and surveys. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Green purchasing policy - Working with a county sustainability planner, this team analyzed purchasing records and reviewed current purchasing guidelines for office and janitorial supplies; wrote and annotated a revised policy to support purchasing for reduced environmental and human health impacts; and developed and administered an employee survey on purchasing habits. [Final Report | Final Presentation]

Spring 2012

  • Disaster vulnerability assessments - This team performed a disaster vulnerability analysis in Alamance County, using a FEMA-funded community-level guide developed by researchers at MDC Inc. and the Center for Sustainable Community Design (UNC Institute for the Environment). They collected and analyzed Census and EPA data; used GIS to generate maps of social vulnerability to disasters; and interviewed emergency professionals. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Emergency shelter assessments - Related to the disaster vulnerability analysis above, this team explored how well emergency shelters accommodate vulnerable citizens (e.g., limited physical mobility, special medical needs, dependent animals, limited English, no transportation). Data collection and analysis included key informant interviews, and piloting and field-testing of a new shelter audit tool. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Green public housing - Energy efficiency and resource conservation, and opportunities to impact behavior in Town-rmanaged public housing units, were the focus of a project with the Town of Chapel Hill. The team designed and implemented a compact-fluorescent lamp replacement program; measured recycling at public housing complexes; compiled a geo-tagged lighting inventory; and created an instructional video and several pamphlets to promote energy efficiency and recycling practices. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Triangle Green Business Challenge - Businesses that volunteered to pilot a new scorecard were the partners in this project, to support the Earth Day launch of the Triangle Green Business Challenge sponsored by the Triangle J Council of Governments. The Challenge's ultimate goal is reducing environmental footprints in energy, water and waste by enlisting dozens of businesses and organizations, large and small, to track and reduce their resource use. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Water quality and nutrient loading in Jordan Lake - This project took on the challenge of a first-cut nitrogen budget for the upper New Hope arm of the Jordan Lake watershed, to inform future analysis and local and regional policy. The team considered nitrogen inputs from food, lawns and industry, among other sources, They performed targeted water sampling, surveyed households about lawn care, and developed a nutrient budget with a local watershed model. [Final Presentation | Executive Summary]

Fall 2011

  • Disaster vulnerability assessments - This team conducted vulnerability assessments in two communities using a FEMA-funded community-level guide developed by researchers at the Center for Sustainable Community Design (UNC Institute for the Environment) and MDC Inc. (Durham NC). They used data from the US Census, EPA, mass media, and GIS layers to generate initial analysis, then incorporated local knowledge from emergency professionals obtained through phone interviews and public meetings. [Final Presentation | Final Report (Wilson) | Final Report (St. Pauls)]
  • Energy-efficient rentals - The "green rentals" team investigated options and models to add rentals to the mix of properties eligible to participate in Chapel Hill's WISE (Worthwhile Investments Save Energy) energy audit and retrofit program. They assessed the stock of single-family rental units for retrofit potential, and interviewed renters and property managers to understand opportunities and barriers to promoting energy-efficient rentals. [Final Report]
  • Landfill expansion - Focusing on a proposed major expansion of an existing small construction-and-demolition landfill in Brunswick County, this team reviewed the available data on the site and investigated possible environmental and health impacts, analyzed geological and socio-demographic data for the area, and discussed possible alternatives and mitigation strategies. They reported their findings to the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities. Update: In April 2012, the Brunswick County Planning Board ruled against expanding the landfill, and the County Commissioners chose not to appeal that decision, at least for the foreseeable future. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Recycling at student apartment complexes - Building on a spring 2011 capstone on recycling at multi-family residences, this team developed and implemented the proposed Recycling Ambassadors program for students. They designed educational and promotional materials to improve the quantity and quality of recycling, conducted audits of volume and contamination of recycling bins at three student-dominated apartment complexes, and designed and conducted a survey of residents. They reported their findings to the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department. [Final Presentation | Final Report]

Spring 2011

  • Campus bicycling environment - Using the Bicycle-Friendly University application (League of American Bicyclists) as a framework, this team assessed Carolina’s current and planned infrastructure, policies and programs in support of bicycling and bicyclists; conducted a bicyclist and pedestrian survey; developed a scalable web-based map of bus, bicycle and other facilities on campus; interviewed peer institutions about their bicycling conditions; and developed recommendations to improve the bicycling environment at Carolina. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Campus cistern water quality - With support from UNC’s Environment, Health and Safety, this team developed and implemented a protocol to assess water quality in campus rainwater cisterns, and made policy and operations recommendations for stormwater management. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Carrboro greenhouse gas emissions inventory - Building on an existing county inventory, this team worked with Carrboro planning staff to develop a greenhouse gas emissions baseline inventory; identified emissions reduction steps; and developed recommendations on how the Town can communicate the findings and motivate the public to reduce carbon emissions. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • DELTA energy internship monitoring - continuation of fall 2010 work. [Final Presentaiton | Final Report]
  • Recycling at apartment complexes - This team assisted the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department in developing more effective techniques to increase quantity and quality of recycling and reduce waste at multi-family residential complexes. [Final Presentation | Final Report]

Fall 2010

  • DELTA internship tracking and analysis - The DELTA team established and launched a system to track the work of a set of energy projects related to UNC’s new program Developing Energy Leaders Through Action; reported and analyzed data on energy savings and carbon reduction; and mapped out an assessment protocol for the two-year program. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • OWASA energy management - With Orange Water and Sewer Authority as client, this team analyzed current energy use and associated greenhouse gases at OWASA facilities; developed a plan to reduce energy and emissions; and explored ways to communicate the program, its social and economic benefits, and household-level relevance to OWASA’s customer base. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Sustainable homes - This team developed a tool to evaluate housing for multiple attributes, from energy efficiency and benign materials to affordability, access and safety; they wrote a policy brief describing sustainable housing, drafted a home-buyer’s guide, and field-tested a home audit tool that assesses basic physical access to homes. [Final Presentation | Final Report | Brochure]
  • Vulnerability Assessment - Field-testing of a new hazard vulnerability assessment tool, developed by a FEMA-funded research team at Carolina, provided the foundation for this project, which generated reviews of exposure to natural and technological hazards for two rural North Carolina communities, and recommendations to the researchers who authored the tool. [Final Presentation | Plymouth Vulnerability Assessment | Bertie County Vulnerability Assessment ]
  • Waste audit and strategic waste management plan - Working with Carolina’s Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, this team conducted a comprehensive waste audit of three large multi-purpose campus buildings; analyzed operations and behavioral data; and recommended new services and practices. [Final Presentation | Final Report]

Spring 2010

  • Energy efficiency in UNC buildings - This team worked with UNC's emissions specialist to quantify and analyze energy consumption in UNC's office buildings; they used energy audits, deployable sensors, occupant interviews, and other tools to identify opportunities for energy savings and develop solutions to waste. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Green and sustainable Carolina athletics - Working with Carolina Athletics and UNC's Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling, this team expanded a pilot tailgate recycling program with a demonstration at the Blue-White spring football game, and developed initial components of a sustainability strategy for UNC athletics events, facilities, and operations. [Final Presentation | Final Report | Final Report Appendices | Summary of Recommendations]
  • Homeowners Assocations and sustainable neighborhoods - With the Town of Carrboro as a client, this team examined restrictive covenants in homeowners' associations that ban environmentally and socially beneficial activities, wrote a policy brief on how the Town could take advantage of its authority to limit such restrictions in future HOAs, and created a public guide to Carrboro neighborhoods. [Final Presentation | Policy Brief | Public Guide]
  • Sustainability research inventory - As a companion to a spring 2009 capstone that inventoried sustainability-related curriculum, this team identified sustainability research at Carolina, created a dataset of such research, and estimated earned points applying an emerging national protocol. [Final Presentation | Final Report]
  • Idle reduction policy and program pilot - Working with Sustainable Sandhills in Fayetteville, this team reviewed the problem of private vehicle idling at K-12 schools, researched health impacts and possible solutions, and developed a pilot program to reduce idling and attendant health risks. [Final Presentation | Final Report | Sample Scenarios of Idling at Schools Handout | Health Hazards Handout]

Fall 2009

  • Laboratory recycling - Working with UNC's Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling and interested laboratory staff, this team developed a model for recycling laboratory materials such as pipette tip boxes and lab plastics, with the goal of developing an institutionalized lab recycling program for these materials. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Managing biosolids from municipal wastewater - OWASA provides water and sewer services to Carrboro, Chapel Hill, UNC-CH and UNC Hospitals. This team evaluated OWASA's handling of solid by-products of wastewater treatment, identified alternative models, interviewed community members and elected officials, and made initial recommendations for reducing environmental and health impacts and the carbon footprint. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Scope 3 GHG emissions - With the town of Chapel Hill as a client, this team inventoried the emissions from employee commuting, waste disposal, water delivery and wastewater treatment that fall under "Scope 3," which a local government may choose to report because it has some-but not complete-influence over generation. This built on earlier capstones that developed baseline inventories for Chapel Hill Transit, and Town of Chapel Hill lights and motor fleet. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Environmentally preferable purchasing program - Also with the Town of Chapel Hill as client, this team reviewed town purchasing decisions, including the "green line" from Office Depot, surveyed town employees about current practices and willingness to adopt new purchasing standards, and developed strategies to improve purchasing for both environmental and economic performance. [Final Report | Final Presentation]

Spring 2009

  • Campus foodprint - As part of Carolina's pledge to achieve climate neutrality by mid-century, this team measured the impact of campus dining and considered the value and feasibility of alternative practices, including buying and serving local and organic food. The client was the Vice-Chancellor's Sustainability Advisory Committee. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Campus sustainability curriculum and research inventory - - This team created a tool to quantify and evaluate sustainability-related courses, programs and research on campus and to track changes over time. The client was the Vice-Chancellor's Sustainability Advisory Committee. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Chapel Hill carbon reduction/streets and fleet - Working with the sustainability/long-range planner at the Town of Chapel Hill as a client, the "streets and fleet" capstone team developed a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for the Town of Chapel Hill vehicle fleet and street lighting and identified possible reduction measures. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Chapel Hill carbon reduction/Transit survey - This project built on a fall 2008 capstone that estimated greenhouse gas emissions associated with Chapel Hill Transit. Working with Chapel Hill Transit and the Town of Chapel Hill, the team's goal was to understand transit rider habits and motivations, as well as the kind of trips (e.g., motorized vs. non-motorized) being displaced by transit trips. They also made marketing recommendations. [Final Report | Final Presentation]
  • Plastic film recovery - - Team Plastics developed a model of plastic collection in a neighborhood shopping center by launching the first-ever pilot project to determine the effectiveness of a cooperative model linking an anchor grocery store with other retailers. The primary client was Orange County Solid Waste Management Department, and additional input was used from the American Chemistry Council and Harris Teeter. [Final Report | Final Presentation]

Fall 2008

  • Campus Green Guide - With a goal of helping students--particularly freshmen--incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives, this project pulled together existing community and campus resources into one organized, easily accessible place. The resulting Web site and associated materials will be promoted at a variety of events and programs and further refined to reach the general campus community of students, faculty and staff. [Final Report | Web site coming soon]
  • Chapel Hill Transit carbon reduction - The Town of Chapel Hill has committed to a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050. Drawing on data for Chapel Hill Transit operations, which are not included in recent emission inventories, this team first determined greenhouse gas emissions for 2005-2007 and made recommendations on how to reduce carbon emissions through operations, planning, and policy. [Final Report | Presentation]
  • Frozen food packaging environmental footprint - This team compared the life-cycle analysis of two types of frozen food packaging, which are considered energy and material inputs, as well as use and disposal of the products. [Final Report | Presentation]
  • Greenbridge education center - The Greenbridge mixed-use complex , now rising near the Chapel Hill-Carrboro border, incorporates cutting-edge environmentally sensitive building, as well as an education center open to the general public. This team developed themes for the education center, along with examples of several exhibits for each of the categories. [Presentation]
  • The feasibility of wind energy along the NC Coast [Final Report]

Spring 2008

  • Wachovia employee education module - This team conceived and began creating an online tool for Wachovia employees that explains the environmental, health, and financial impacts of everyday activities at home, at work and traveling in between. Team members conceptualized the structure and content of this learning module, collected relevant information and developed slides and voice-over narration. The team presentation describes the final product launched by Wachovia on Earth Day 2008 and discusses additional topics that exceeded the time/length limits for Wachovia's online courses. These materials, relating to food and health, waste, toxics, and transportation, may be used in future learning modules for Wachovia or other audiences. [Presentation | News Article | Online Course Sample Slides]
  • Preserving Focus the Nation - This team collected instructional materials from professors who participated in the January 2008 Focus the Nation national teach-in on climate change. Team members established a protocol for storing and disseminating such materials to interested faculty across campus, organizing the materials by academic department. The project is ongoing. [Presentation | Summary Report]
  • Evaluating student energy use at UNC - This team created a suite of recommendations for UNC to help reduce student energy use. [Presentation | Final Report]
  • UNC Air travel emissions - This team devised methodology and calculations for estimating the carbon emissions from UNC air travel. [Presentation]

Fall 2007

  • Community sustainability self-assessment - This team demonstrated an Analytical Hierarchy Process used with environmental, economic and social indicators to perform a sustainability self-assessment. The final report documents the process used to select and weigh indicators in accordance with community goals in order to understand current conditions and map out progress toward more sustainable conditions. The data for Chapel Hill are used for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute an authoritative review of town policies or practices. Additional work is anticipated on identifying, collecting and applying reliable and meaningful data to support indicators. This project was funded, in part, by the Wallace Genetic Foundation. [Presentation | Final Report]

Summer 2004

  • Sustainability in Cambridge: Planning the Development of a North West Site for the University of Cambridge [Final Report]

Fall 2004

  • Impacts of stormwater runoff to the North Carolina coast - This team provided a basic summarization of the stormwater runoff issues, especially as they pertain to coastal North Carolina and to other coastal areas along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. The team chose to use a multi-faceted approach, with the following foci: characterization of stormwater runoff and its impacts on human health and ecosystems, relationships of impervious surface cover to stormwater runoff characteristics, remediation of stormwater runoff through natural mitigation systems and the economic and societal impacts of stormwater. [Final Report]

Fall 2003

  • Beach Nourishment Capstone - This capstone project focused on the controversial issue of beach renourishment, examining the status quo of beach renourishment projects and their economic impacts. [Final Report]