Campus News

Michael Piehler named chief sustainability officer

A faculty member since 1998, the coastal ecosystem ecologist will coordinate sustainability efforts on campus and chair the University’s Sustainability Council.

portrait of Mike Piehler
Michael Piehler

Longtime faculty member Michael Piehler (BS ’90, MSPH ’94, Ph.D. ’97) is Carolina’s chief sustainability officer and special assistant to the chancellor for sustainability, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz announced in a campus email sent Wednesday.

“Mike brings a deep expertise in environmental science and a passion for using data to drive policy decisions related to the environment,” Guskiewicz wrote.

A coastal ecosystem ecologist at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, Piehler joined Carolina’s faculty in 1998. He has served as director of the UNC Institute for the Environment since 2018 and has joint appointments in the Department of Marine Sciences, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and the Environment, Ecology, and Energy Program.

In his new role as chief sustainability officer, wrote Guskiewicz, Piehler will provide leadership and coordination of broad sustainability efforts on campus, developing a consistent plan to reach short- and long-term goals and serving as chair of the University’s Sustainability Council.

The Council, wrote the chancellor, will support the transition to Sustainable Carolina, a new comprehensive initiative to advance and amplify all sustainability activities, including the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative, the University’s integrated approach to reducing its environmental footprint through three goals: net zero water usage; zero waste to landfills; and net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The Council will advise the chancellor and his cabinet on the University’s sustainability strategy within the framework of Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. To facilitate this work, the Council will form four committees to set goals and track progress, integrate with other programs at the University, foster innovation and tell the University’s sustainability story.

“This Council harnesses a broad range of expertise, experience and perspectives from across the University, and I’m grateful for each person’s willingness to serve,” Guskiewicz wrote.

The other members of the Council are:

  • Vennela Avula, undergraduate student, Gillings School of Global Public Health
  • Elizabeth Havice, associate professor, Department of Geography, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Diamond Holloman, doctoral student, Environment, Ecology, and Energy Program, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Nikhil Kaza, associate professor, Department of City and Regional Planning and Environment, Ecology, and Energy Program, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Nathaniel Maniatis, undergraduate student, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Asia Mieczkowska, associate operations officer, Renaissance Computing Institute, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research
  • Jeff Mittelstadt, professor of the practice and director, Center for Sustainable Enterprise, Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • Jonas Monast, assistant professor and director, Center for Climate, Energy, Environment & Economics, School of Law
  • Natalie Murdock, Murdock Anderson Consulting and senator, North Carolina General Assembly
  • Erin Riggs, executive director, Environmental Finance Center, School of Government
  • Aaron Salzberg, distinguished professor and director, Water Institute, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Piehler’s research focuses on the interface between land and water, particularly quantifying exchanges and processing of nutrients and carbon in aquatic systems. He studies how human activity affects the interactions between natural and built coastal environments, addressing the challenges and opportunities that those interactions present.

He has published more than 90 papers and advises governments, non-government organizations and industry. Piehler will retain his faculty appointments and research activities in addition to his new role.

“I am confident that Mike’s expertise and leadership will enable us to continue to make progress in our many sustainability objectives,” Guskiewicz wrote. “Please join me in congratulating Mike on this appointment and thanking him for his continued service to Carolina.”