UVA Embarks on Ambitious 10-Year Sustainability Plan

Arial View of the Rotunda and Lawn

UVA’s 10-year sustainability plan contains a program of education and engagement throughout the University and the community, administered by the University Committee on Sustainability. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

The University of Virginia has laid out an ambitious 10-year plan to accelerate the University’s sustainability goals across operations, research, curriculum, accountability and engagement – a framework of stewardship and discovery.

The 2020-30 UVA Sustainability Plan includes six goals that UVA’s Board of Visitors approved in December, when the University committed to pursuing carbon neutrality by 2030 in partnership with the College of William & Mary. The full 2030 Plan also outlines strategic actions for success and adds four new goals.  

The plan’s goals include:

  • Being carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050.
  • Reducing water use by 30% by 2030.
  • Reducing waste to 30% of 2010 levels by 2030.
  • Reducing the University’s nitrogen footprint by 30% by 2030.
  • Increasing the use of sustainably grown food to 30% by 2030.
  • Partnering with the community to advance equitable places.
  • Building accountability in leadership.
  • Enhancing sustainability teaching.
  • Enhancing sustainability research.
  • Supporting Grounds-engaged learning.

The 10 goals laid out in the 2020-30 UVA Sustainability Plan have been approved on several levels. The Board of Visitors approved the five stewardship and the one engagement goal (the first six bullet points listed above), while University President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis, approved the full set of 10 goals. 

“All goals will be difficult to achieve,” Cheryl Gomez, director of operations for Facilities Management, said. “All of them are aspirational, meaning that we have set a stake in the ground for where we need to be to be a good and great university. We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t know how we will get there. This push to a greater effort is inspirational.” 

Be safe, for all of us. -UVA

Gomez said the University deliberately chose carbon neutrality and fossil fuel-free goals to reduce adverse impacts on human and ecological health.

“As we work toward being carbon-neutral, we want every decision we make and every action we implement to be guided and driven by the ultimate goal of ending the use of fossil fuels,” Gomez said. “The focus on climate equity is because of the social and ecological adverse impacts associated with the use of fossil fuels and the disproportionate impacts these have on communities of color and those that are historically economically disadvantaged. In setting these goals, UVA recognizes the existential issue associated with climate change. Setting and meeting these goals and tracking our progress in achieving them exemplifies how UVA holds itself accountable for doing good.”

A key element of the plan is a program of education and engagement throughout the University and the community, administered by the University Committee on Sustainability. Architecture professor Phoebe Crisman, co-chair of the committee, said that “the plan includes developing new sustainability courses, academic programs, sustainability-oriented faculty fellowships, funded research, and career and professional development, as well as implementing student-led projects, sponsoring engagement events and using the Grounds as a living laboratory for projects.”

The plan provides seed funding for sustainability projects. The pan-University Environmental Resilience Institute has made connections between schools, supporting 28 collaborative team projects on water futures, climate resilience and environment and health, projects involving more than 100 faculty members from 10 schools, six Water Futures faculty fellows, and 16 postdoctoral and graduate fellows, plus undergraduate externs.

“The University has been a conscientious steward of the environment for many years, placing great attention on conservation of its resources,” Donald E. Sundgren, associate vice president and chief facilities officer, said. “The 2020-30 Sustainability Plan is a broad and aggressive continuation of those efforts and positions the University, together with its peer institutions and others, to take an appropriate leadership role in causing a transformational advance in all aspects related to sustainability.”

The University’s ongoing sustainability efforts have already exceeded expectations, reducing carbon emissions by 25% by 2019, six years ahead of the its goal.

“The Board of Visitors and the administration have made a major commitment to reducing the University’s carbon footprint and overall impact on the environment,” Colette Sheehy, senior vice president for operations, said. “Even though we don’t know today exactly how we will achieve the goals, we are confident in our ability to find a way in partnership with faculty, staff and students across the University and with alumni and companies external to UVA.”

The 2020-30 Sustainability Plan seeks to maintain the momentum created by years of academic collaboration to seek solutions and prepare students to address complex global challenges, such as resource scarcity, environmental injustice and climate change.

“The UVA 2020-30 Sustainability Plan builds upon many years of UVA student, staff, faculty, alumni and broader community engagement, committing to accelerated goals for the next decade in alignment with UVA’s 2030 ‘great and good’ strategic plan,” Andrea Trimble, UVA sustainability director, said. “The framework of engagement, stewardship and discovery recognizes the importance of the interconnectedness of sustainability amongst and across people, operations, curriculum and research, to advance solutions to pressing issues, both locally and globally.

“As strategic initiatives are put forward, we will do so in a way that centers equity and the recently approved goals of the UVA Racial Equity Task Force, and in a way that collaborates closely with our region.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications