University of Virginia to Re-Assess Sustainability Initiatives

July 6, 2010 — The University of Virginia is taking stock of its progress toward achieving its sustainability goals over the past four years, and readying to set new goals for the next four.

The first University-wide sustainability assessment was completed in 2006, asking over 200 people across Grounds how their units approach sustainability and what goals they had set. A new assessment, scheduled to begin this month and surveying about 300 people involved in sustainability efforts, will look at what goals have been met from the first assessment and will set future goals.

"We're going to survey a broad group of people, using the original assessment as a baseline and adding new questions and topics that reflect expanding realm of sustainability in higher education," said Andrew Greene, sustainability planner with the Office of the Architect.

The new survey will begin the week of July and continue for about three weeks.

Many recommendations identified in the 2006 assessment have been implemented, Greene said. Among these are the creation of a Presidential Committee on Sustainability; adoption of U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards for new construction and major renovations; discounted and priority parking for car and van pools; a subsidized bus pass system on the city bus system allowing University ID holders to ride without paying; expanding energy conservation measures and educational outreach; and expanding the Chuck-it-for-Charity and Sofa Shuffle programs that recycle students' cast-off furniture and appliances.

"University Dining has completed all its recommendations," Greene said. "This next assessment will help set new goals and determine how far-reaching the list of recommendations will be."

Dining Services initiated food waste composting; serves more organic and local foods; reduced food waste and water use by removing trays from the dining halls; offers reusable take-away containers; recycles fryer oil; and established some student gardens on Grounds.

The University has increased its support of sustainability initiatives in tangible ways, according to Greene.

"There are more people on Grounds working with sustainability than there were four years ago and we have clear administrative support for sustainability efforts," he said.

There are also ongoing initiatives from the earlier assessment, such as restoring habitat and creating low-maintenance, environmentally responsible landscaping and improved stormwater management; promoting bicycle safety and alternative transportation, such as the Zipcar automobile rental program; adding alternative-fuel vehicles to the University fleet; promoting conservation using real-time energy monitoring; fine-tuning many of the utility operational systems; installing low-flow plumbing fixtures and motion detector light switches; increasing recycling at events; and implementing environmentally responsible purchasing practices.

One goal of the new assessment is to determine why some initiatives have succeeded while others have not.

"We want to identify barriers to succeeding," said Julia Monteith, senior land use planner in the Office of the Architect. "Is it a matter of funding, or a lack of priority?"

Montheith noted that despite the failing economy, planning has continued on many of the initiatives. Many – such as reducing water and electricity use and cutting the amount of trash sent to landfills – save the University money.

"This is a way of seeing how much has gotten done in the past four years and setting goals for new and improved initiatives," Greene said.