Project Based Learning Takes on Future Environmental Challenges

About the Author

Jeff Hughes

Jeff Hughes was the Director of the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the UNC School of Government between 2003 and 2019. Hughes currently serves as a Commissioner in the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Interested in innovation, community development, and education? The US Environmental Protection Agency seems to receive a lot of attention these days for their regulatory role, but they also play an important role in research with numerous programs supporting investigation into new ways of protecting the environment in an economically viable manner. The People, Prosperity, and the Planet  (P3) program supports student led research and design teams that focus on projects that address the intersection of environmental protection and community development. Want to be inspired? Take a few minutes to read what the future of sustainability and community development might look like based on the innovative ideas coming from our nation’s college students that won P3 design and research grants over the last few years.  Phase 1 winners are provided up to $15,000 to design an idea and present it at an expo. A small number of Phase 1 winners are selected for Phase 2  and are additional funds to further develop their projects.

Some exciting examples of recent winners from North Carolina Schools:

An On-Site Biological Greywater Treatment System Suitable for Small Business

A team from Appalachian State that was selected to take their project from phase 1 to phase 2 this year and to develop an improved method for small businesses to treat wastewater.


A Decision-Making Support Tool for Water and Sanitation Projects in Low-Resource Settings

An appropriate entry from a team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill considering that the UNC System is in the midst of it’s first ever campus wide theme that happens to focus on water.

Beyond Green: Bio-reactor Integrated Building Envelope (BIBE) in Urban Environment

Charlotte, a city that continues to position itself as a leading energy hub for the nation is the home of a project being designed by a team from UNC- Charlotte that focuses on an innovative “living” system integrated into building design.

These are just some of the exciting ideas under development. For a full list of projects visit:

While as with any cutting edge research, only a few of these projects are likely to make it into production one day, the opportunity these students teams have to experience first hand the process of incubating an idea before they ever get out of school is exciting. These projects are only the beginning of hundreds of careers and while the environmental challenges we face are daunting, the knowledge that our nations students are excited about meeting the challenge is reassuring.

Want to do more than just read about the ideas? All the projects above plus many more will be showcased in Washington DC, later this spring. For more information:


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