University of Virginia Launches Sustainability Pledge

October 20, 2010

October 20, 2010 — The University of Virginia, in observance of today's national Campus Sustainability Day, is launching a sustainability pledge for employees and students. 

Available on the University's sustainability website, it reads, "I pledge to consider the social, economic and environmental impacts of my habits and to explore ways to foster a sustainable environment during my time here at U.Va. and beyond."

The Community Outreach and Communications Subcommittee of the President's Committee on Sustainability proposed the idea for the pledge and the concept was later endorsed by the entire committee. During the summer, sustainability leaders across Grounds gathered information and refined the pledge, which reflects the University's commitment to a grass-roots sustainability movement.

"We wanted to develop a mechanism that helps to overcome negativity such as, 'I'm just one person, my actions don't matter,'" said Ida Lee Wootten, U.Va.'s director of community relations and chair of the Community Outreach and Communications Subcommittee. "The pledge encourages students and employees to make well-thought-out decisions."

To find the pledge, visit here, where it is listed under the  "Get Involved" button. To electronically "sign" the pledge, users will enter their Net Badge identification, which directs them to pages specifically designed for students or employees. The student page contains information on "The Green Challenge," a green-living competition, and a frequently-asked-questions section. The employee section describes Sustainability Partners, a now-forming network of individuals interested in promoting environmentally responsible practices in the workplace.

"It's rare to have one website reflecting both students' actions and employees' interests," Wootten said. "The newly redesigned website is becoming a focal point of sustainability efforts of the University community."

The initial goal is to have 1,000 individuals sign the pledge by Earth Day on April 22.

Concurrent with launching the sustainability pledge is an effort to collect photographs of employees and students declaring individual actions, such as recycling more, buying local food, composting, using alternate transportation and reducing energy consumption. These photographs, with people holding dry-erase boards bearing their commitments, are appearing on the U.Va. website. To date more than 150 images have been collected.

The pledge is the latest step in U.Va.'s aggressive sustainability campaign, which has a seen a decrease in normalized electric use (per gross square feet) and total water usage over the past 10 years, an increase in use of transportation alternatives, more awareness of local food and more environmentally responsible construction.

The University has launched projects such as Delta Force, an interdisciplinary team that examines existing buildings and re-commissions them to reduce energy and water usage. In fiscal year 2009-10, Delta Force retrofits reduced the University's consumption of water and electricity and recouped $913,746 in savings and avoided costs. Additional conservation efforts avoided $371,933.

The University has reduced its water consumption from 620.5 million gallons of water in 2000 to 531.3 million gallons in fiscal year 2009-10. At the same time, the University expanded the gross square footage of facilities receiving water by 2.1 million square feet.

The University has also expanded its recycling program. It is recycling more than 43 percent of its annual solid waste, well above the mandated 25 percent rate for state agencies. In calendar year 2009, U.Va. recycled 3,845 tons of material, including metal, glass, plastic and cardboard and paper.

The University has also introduced a food composting program, which is turning nearly five tons of food waste a week into a useful soil additive. Working with Panorama Farms, a local composting business, this student-initiated and -operated program is a natural element of the University's educational mission.

At the same time, Dining Services reduced the amount of food waste in the dining halls by about 25 percent, and cut its water consumption by about one-third by removing trays from the dining halls. Dining Services has also instituted a "buy local" initiative, working closely with local and regional farmers to offer organic foods daily and increase the availability of vegetarian entrees. Approximately 12 percent of diners are taking a vegetarian entrée during Meat-Free Mondays.

Dining Services also takes students on tours of local farms supplying ingredients to the dining halls as part of its educational mission.

Dining Services and the Office of Housing received the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program's E-3 designation, meaning they have fully implemented environmental management systems and pollution prevention programs as well as demonstrated performance.

On the transportation side, the University has promoted bus ridership through subsidizing faculty, staff and student rides on the Charlottesville Area Transit system. U.Va. ridership on city buses has nearly tripled since 2007, with nearly 25,932 boardings a month. Parking and Transportation has increased incentives for employees to carpool.

Parking and Transportation has also introduced Zipcar, a system by which program members can reserve a car by the hour, and NuRide, a ride-sharing website that offers rewards for biking, walking, carpooling, working a compressed work week and teleworking. P&T is also operating its bus fleet on biodiesel.

The University is being environmentally responsible with its construction. In 2007, the Board of Visitors adopted the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification standards for all new construction. U.Va. has developed drought-resistant landscaping with an emphasis on native plantings and has received awards for its innovative stormwater management systems.

— By Matt Kelly