VCU hosts first Sustainability Day

Catherine Leth

Contributing Writer

VCU hosted its first Sustainability Day Friday at the Commons Plaza.

The event was part of a nationwide movement created by the Campus Sustainability Planning Network that encourages colleges to develop a proactive and environmental plan for the future.

The VCU Sustainability Committee saw the event as an opportunity to consolidate campus efforts and show students the changes that have been taking place. Despite the event ending early due to rain, Director of Sustainability Jacek Ghosh estimated that 400 to 500 people attended.

“We had a good turnout,” Ghosh said.  “We do Earth Day, which is fine, but we don’t have a day where we talk about all the stuff that we’re doing on campus.”
Many statewide organizations participated, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the James River Green Building Council, and Virginia Waterways Cleanup. Students entered a raffle contest by having a voucher signed by a representative at each of the 24 booths.

According to Will Eisenberg, a Green Unity for VCU member, a new bicycle – the raffle grand prize – wasn’t the only reason students were interested.
“They weren’t just getting through to get things done, they actually wanted to learn some things,” Eisenberg said.  “It’s more heartwarming than anything.”

The VCU Rice Center in Charles County hosted tours throughout the day.  To The Bottom and Back, a non-profit bus service in Richmond, provided transportation.
Participants stood on the bank of the James River where researchers recently removed an artificial dam, walked on the docks of the Rice Center boathouse, and toured the education building – a VCU point of pride for its platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

“Up until about a year or two ago, there were only about 112 buildings worldwide that were platinum-level LEED,” Catherine Dahl, Director of Development at the Rice Center said. “We were the first in Virginia. That’s a major achievement.”

Back on campus, Ghosh discussed the future of VCU sustainability: His committee’s goal is to eliminate all university carbon emissions by 2050.

In 2008, VCU was creating 130,000 metric tons of carbon gasses a year.  According to Ghosh, this number will be reduced slowly, at about 3,200 metric tons per year, to reach carbon neutrality.

“We’re like a big oil tanker,” he said. “We’ve been going down this path for a while and now you’re saying you have to shift – you can’t turn those suckers on a dime.”
Some students and staff expressed concern regarding the environmental craze at VCU, emphasizing that sustainability is a way of life, not a trend.
“I think there’s a good portion of the student body that’s aware of the environment, but it’s not big enough,” said Leslie Englert, a biochemistry major.  “It doesn’t match up with people who are into the buzz word and people who are into sustainability and their actual impact on the environment.”

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