August 5, 2010 — The University of Virginia's dining and housing operations have been lauded by a state program developed to recognize facilities for setting environmental goals and evaluating their improving performance.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recognizes innovation and successful environmental initiatives with its "E3" designation, for "Exemplary Environmental Enterprise." U.Va. is the first state university to receive the designation.
Among Dining Services' achievements have been switching to trayless dining, employing reusable take-away containers, increasing emphasis on student education and instituting a composting program. (The composting program recently earned a 2010 Governor's Environmental Excellence Award.)
Most recently, the newly minted U.Va. chapter of the nationwide Campus Kitchens Project began repurposing unused portions of food from the dining halls to reduce waste and provide meals for the underserved members of the local community.
"We are pleased to have achieved this level of environmental excellence on behalf of the University, and just as importantly, this also conveys internally that conservation efforts have been solidified as a top priority for our program," says Brent Beringer, director of U.Va. Dining Services.
The Housing Division was recognized for its use of environmentally responsible cleaning materials, shifting from incandescent to fluorescent light bulbs, adopting strict environmental standards on carpet and furnishings, providing an extensive recycling program, establishing energy-use dashboards in its facilities and sponsoring competitions between dorms for recycling and energy savings. Its maintenance crews have replaced their pick-up trucks with hybrid and all-terrain vehicles, which get better gas mileage.
The Housing Division is also in the middle of multi-year program of demolishing 11 residence halls and replacing them with seven new ones, all of which will be LEED-certified.
"It is wonderful to receive this award, but this is not a laurel on which we will sit," Mark Doherty, U.Va.'s chief housing officer, said. "These efforts are not something special; they are how we do our work. We are continuing to use environmentally responsible practices and this is something that will propel us on our way."
Both Dining and Housing, as well as the Departments of Parking & Transportation and the Office of Environmental Health & Safety, formerly held the "E2," or "Environmental Enterprise," designation, and have instituted environmental management systems to track and implement environmental policies, regulations and goals.
Dining received its E2 designation in 2007 for its efforts to measure and reduce food waste, installing high-efficiency kitchen equipment, forming a student and dining administration sustainability decision-making body and recycling waste vegetable cooking oil.
"Not only are these departments contributing to sustainability by making a serious commitment to the environment in their daily operations, but they are also being honored for these achievements outside the University community," said Jess Wenger, U.Va. environmental projects manager. "No other university in Virginia has been recognized at this level yet."
The Virginia Environmental Excellence Program requires E2 programs to fully implement and audit their environmental management systems as well as create a pollution prevention program to be eligible for advancement to E3.
"In the spirit of U.Va.'s student self-governance, sustainability is yet another program that truly was originally student-initiated," said Kendall Singleton, sustainability coordinator for U.Va. Dining. "It is my hope that students can take pride in this latest achievement and recognize that their hard work not only made this possible, but will also help the University reach even further sustainability milestones."
Doherty said that Housing's upgraded designation is the result of the work and contributions of many people.
"Even though there is a great deal of work left to be done, Dining and Housing are well on their way to helping cement U.Va.'s place in the ranks of sustainability pioneers with this latest achievement," Singleton said.