Mary-Catherine (M.C.) Gray’s (’23) enthusiasm for sustainability stems back to seventh grade. Her desire to protect the planet began the way it does for many – Earth Day festivities. After serving on her middle school Earth Day committee, she started her own environmental club in high school.
Coming from a small school in New Bern to a college campus with more than 19,000 undergraduate students didn’t deter Gray. If anything, it propelled her desire to make a tangible impact.
In September of her first year, Gray joined the Residence Hall Association as a sustainability officer, teaching students of the importance of those three words we all know and love: reducing, reusing, and recycling.
Recognizing the importance of broadening her impact, Gray joined the UNC Student Government Executive Branch, and served on the Environmental Affairs Committee for three years. Last April, things came full circle when she helped plan the University’s Earth Day celebration as leader of UNC’s Environmental Coalition.
A Liaison for Campus Sustainability
Around the time Gray arrived at Carolina, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz was dreaming up ways to usher the University into a new era of sustainability. In 2020, Chancellor Guskiewicz introduced the Carolina Sustainability Council, which would advise his cabinet on strategies for a greener campus.
With Mike Piehler at the helm, the Sustainability Council quickly got to work. From the beginning, Piehler saw student involvement in the Council as essential in creating a body representative of Carolina’s values. He selected Gray and Nathaniel Maniatis (’22) as founding undergraduate Council members, explaining that even before the Council formed, the two were fully immersed in campus sustainability.
“Student groups are a tremendous driver and technical resource in the sustainability space at Carolina,” says Piehler. “Having undergraduate and graduate student leaders on the Council is imperative.”
As part of their role on the Council, Gray and Maniatis led the Environmental Coalition, a group of Carolina’s sustainability-related clubs. They regularly reported back to the Council about progress being made on the student side.
“Student voices often go unheard,” says Gray. “The little voice matters in everything. You may not think you have much of a say, but with those two undergraduate student representative spots on the Council, we had a direct line of communication with the Chief Sustainability Officer.”
Gray explained that the open line of communication proved to be especially beneficial when talking with students about complex matters like the cogeneration plant.
“Students deserve to know what’s going on,” says Gray. “Being on the Council, I was more aware of things going on behind the scenes. When you hear about climate strikes on campus, you can educate people, and let them know that the cogeneration plant is becoming more efficient every year.”
A Chapter Closing
Gray stepped down from the Carolina Sustainability Council and Environmental Action Committee last May to devote her time to Carolina for the Kids’ 15-person Executive Board. But this doesn’t mean she’s done pushing for more sustainable practices on campus.
For this year’s Kilometers for the Kids road race, Gray knew single-use plastic was out of the question. In lieu of water bottles, participants received water in paper cups. And during the 2023 Dance Marathon in March, the group will reuse banners from previous years and donate leftover food to the SECU Family House so it doesn’t go to waste.
“Sustainability isn’t own separate endeavor,” says Gray. “A lot of the times you’ll learn about it in a class but not necessarily incorporate it into your lifestyle. It’s a holistic approach, rather than its own separate entity. Everything you do and every action you take can have – and does have – an impact.”
Piehler said it is sad to have students cycle through the Council, but that there is also value in fresh perspectives and expertise.
“MC has always been full of good ideas. She is willing to take on the difficult work of building an organization and is a great colleague,” says Piehler. “It was clear from her time on the council that she is going to do great things.”
MC Gray is a senior in the Kenan-Flagler Business School studying business administration. She will also graduate with minors in sustainability studies and Spanish for the professions. She served on the Carolina Sustainability Council from Fall 2020-Spring 2022.