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Shi Institute earns international acclaim from UN program

Volunteers with Furman’s Community Conservation Corps work on weatherizing a home.
Volunteers with Furman’s Community Conservation Corps work on weatherizing a home.

For more than a decade, Furman’s Community Conservation Corps has been making a local impact, improving the lives of hundreds of residents. Now, that local impact has spread globally with recognition from the United Nations Environment Programme.

The winners of the International Green Gown Awards, which are dedicated to “recognizing exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by the world’s universities and colleges,” were announced in a bilingual online ceremony on July 7, 2021. The CCC, a signature program of Furman’s Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, was “highly commended” by the judges for its home weatherization program.

Furman was the only U.S. institution among the six schools recognized within the Benefitting Society category.

The IGGA judges commented that the CCC was “outside of the comfort zone” for Furman.

“The project shows a good example of social and economic justice,” the judges said, adding that they “look forward to seeing how this project can be replicated into other communities.”

Since 2010, the CCC has helped more than 160 low- and moderate-income homes in the Greenville, South Carolina, area become more energy efficient.

At a home, the CCC team conducts an energy audit to determine need; performs weatherization through attic insulation and caulking; provides a supply of LED lightbulbs; and educates the homeowner about energy efficiency.

The work can save homeowners up to 25% on their energy bills – “which puts hundreds and hundreds of dollars back in their pockets,” says Hannah Dailey, program coordinator for the Shi Institute, “and they can use that on other things that they need for their families.”

Homeowners also often tell Dailey they feel more comfortable in their homes – warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer. And there’s satisfaction for the student volunteers, too. “They gain skills talking to homeowners and working with the community,” Dailey says, “but they also learn about affordable housing and energy burdens, which is really important in today’s time.”

Not only is the CCC a unique program to help the community, Dailey says, but it also helps Furman meet its carbon neutrality goals, since the school can claim carbon offsets for the homes that the CCC weatherizes.

Cooperation is key, says Dailey.

“The CCC has wonderful collaborative partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, which serves as our contractor; Piedmont Natural Gas, which is our local utility company that provides most of the funding; the city of Greenville; and then, of course, the university,” she says.

Although the CCC is not the only home weatherization program in the area, “it is one of the only weatherization programs that is situated within a university and provides so many social benefits,” Dailey says.

“Winning this Green Gown award affirms our dedication to reaching beyond the campus walls to benefit society,” says Weston Dripps, executive director of the Shi Institute. “We are proud that the Shi Institute is home to this unique flagship program and are honored to receive international recognition for its campus and community sustainability efforts.”

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