Greener Grounds: New Report Confirms University of Virginia’s Commitment to Sustainability

Mar. 4, 2007 — A new report from the University of Virginia’s Office of the Architect provides the first comprehensive look at U.Va.’s numerous programs in support of environmental sustainability and also provides a road map for future initiatives designed to secure the University’s position as a national leader among colleges and universities.

The assessment program considered both operational activities and academic programs in support of sustainability. According to David J. Neuman, the University’s architect, the University initiated the study to identify baseline performance, to recognize accomplishments, to stimulate continuing dialogue and to develop recommendations for future activities.

In response to the recommendations, U.Va. will move forward with a new model by adopting and implementing a University-wide program to promote sustainability measures within and among all departments. Current departmental and interdepartmental initiatives will be sustained while efforts in the University’s particular areas of strength in sustainability are enhanced. Each of the University’s operational units will be required to perform a self-assessment of current activities, determine best practices and peer benchmarks, and set measurable aspirational goals.

The release of the report comes on the heels of action by the U.Va. Board of Visitors in two significant areas. At its February meeting, the board passed a resolution requiring that all new and renovated buildings at the University meet LEED certification under the rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. The LEED certification is expected to add 1.5 percent to the total construction costs but should save money through more efficient energy use, reduced maintenance costs, better storm water management and increased productivity.

In addition, the Board established the Grounds Improvement Fund, designed to make improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists and reduce automobile use at the University.

“In truth, the University has made important, measurable strides with regard to sustainability, and it has done so on its own, because they are the right thing to do,” said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III. “Our board's decision in February to adopt LEED certification for new and renovated buildings was a major step that was not taken lightly. It came after thoughtful analysis of options, and with full awareness that while LEED represents the current state of the art in sustainable construction practices, the art will improve.  As it improves, so will our building construction, maintenance, and management systems. The board’s action represents a clear sign of commitment. We will monitor progress here and elsewhere carefully and will take advantage of the research here and elsewhere as we work toward even greater environmental sustainability in our community.”

Neuman called the assessment “ a significant milestone for the University, not only because it provides the initial benchmarks from which to plan improvements and to measure our future efforts in sustainability, but also because it serves as a platform for raising overall institutional consciousness of our current strengths and weaknesses in creating a ‘greener Grounds.’”

Accomplishments in each of seven “management centers” entailed not only positive environmental impact but also significant cost reduction or cost avoidance. In fact, a separate report from the University’s Energy and Utilities Department indicates that programs in energy conservation and recycling resulted in almost $6 million in cost avoidance during 2005-2006.

A sampling of accomplishments across the University includes:
  •  Implementation of an Environmental Management System and Sustainability Guidelines to help U.Va. manage its environmental impacts, ensure compliance with all applicable regulations and  encourage sustainability across University departments;
  • Introduction of energy-efficient lighting systems in many facilities, which has reduced energy consumption and, as a direct consequence, air pollution by more than 7,500 tons of carbon dioxide per year. This includes installation of 6,000 motion sensors or timers to control artificial lighting, which has resulted in an estimated savings of almost $83,000;
  • Installation of a Tarkett FieldTurf facility on Carr’s Hill Field, which results in $30,000 in annual operational savings while allowing for more frequent and sustained use as well as serving as a storm water retention device;
  • Reforestation through a tree replacement and integrated pest management program to minimize pesticide and herbicide usage, and the use of low maintenance plants throughout Grounds;
  • Use of B20 (20 percent biodiesel blend) fuel in the entire University Transit System bus fleet, plus collaboration between UTS and the Charlottesville Transportation Service on a fare-free pilot program with the potential to reduce automobile usage;
  • Achievement of recycling rates of more than 40 percent, which significantly exceed the state-mandated 25 percent level. This resulted in a calculated savings of $114,000 by recycling 5,436 tons of materials instead of disposing of them in a landfill;
  • Development of water conservation efforts that have led to a decline in water consumption over the last six years despite the University’s growth;
  • Participation in a pilot program hosted by ARAMARK through SYSCO (both food service providers) to purchase locally grown produce when seasonably available.
“What was especially notable about the assessment, in my view, was recognizing that members of the U.Va. community — faculty, staff and students — are doing remarkable things in support of sustainability initiatives at the University,” said Cheryl Gomez, energy and utilities director for Facilities Management. “What was also clear is that we have not done a good job of documenting and celebrating these many accomplishments. Going forward, I think we need to focus on how we can build on these many successes without losing sight of how much we have already done.”

John Quale, an assistant professor of architecture who participated in the assessment process, said he was struck by the degree to which the process led to a truly honest evaluation of where the University stands on the issue of sustainability.

 “I think many around the table felt there have been a lot of terrific efforts focused on environmental issues in the past, but they had remained isolated,” Quale said. “This report was an attempt to bring everyone together and openly discuss what we've done well, and frankly, what we haven't done very well. 

“In addition, I think the report's authors were working to get beyond generic suggestions or goals. They were interested in finding solutions that made sense for U.Va., and could be effectively implemented within the university's management structure. Tying in the results to the annual reporting structure is just one example of this."

Neuman noted that one measure of the University’s commitment is the establishment of two new positions in his office to focus the planning and coordination of sustainability efforts.

More than 200 University members, including staff, faculty and students across more than 40 departments participated in the Sustainability Assessment during the summer and fall of 2006. Through four introductory workshops, nine Web-based survey modules, numerous interviews and additional research, the University gathered data in the areas of governance and culture and academics and learning as well as the following management centers: land use, built environment, transportation, dining services, energy, water, and waste and recycling.

The assessment study also determined that academic departments and institutes throughout the University are infused with a sustainability ethos, including the School of Law, School of Architecture, The College of Arts & Sciences, McIntire School of Commerce, the Batten Institute at the Darden School of Business and the Institute for Environmental Negotiation.

In addition, the report compared current practices at U.Va. with efforts being undertaken by other colleges and universities. As the report noted: “With more than 4,200 colleges and universities in the U.S. generating $200 billion in revenues, employing more than 3 million people, enrolling 17 million students, spending $20 billion annually on operations and spending $14 billion annually in construction, colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to drive change in their immediate environs while educating future generations on the importance of this work.”

Neuman said that U.Va.’s current leadership in several key areas and its commitment to sustainability afford the University an opportunity for national leadership among colleges and universities.