In five years, VCU has gone from receiving a ‘C+’ grade from the College Sustainability Report Card to an ‘A-,’ asserting the university as the “greenest in Virginia.”
The work of Jacek Ghosh, VCU Sustainability’s first director who will leave the university at the end of the semester, was a key component in this change.
Ghosh became the founding director of the Office of Sustainability in July 2008 after the SGA and student group Green Unity began a petition for then-president Eugene P. Trani to sign the American College and Universities planet commitment.
“We’re greening the university governments and culture, which is hard to do. I would definitely say that’s a success,” Ghosh said. “Lots of good grades and green report cards, we’ve been ranked well and rankings continue to change and the idea is that we continue to change and improve and not get too comfortable.”
Trani signed the planet commitment in April 2008. The commitment required the university to create a committee, so the VCU sustainability committee was created in November of 2008. Since then, the committee has met 20 times.
Ghosh worked to bring together the Office of Sustainability and student groups such as the SGA and Green Unity at VCU.
“Jacek Ghosh has been a catalyst for change at VCU,” said Wyatt Carpenter, an urban design major who works for Green Unity and interns with Ghosh.
Within a year of establishing the Office of Sustainability, Ghosh said the university had to measure its greenhouse gas emissions inventory. By May 2010, it had devised a climate action plan that promised the university would be carbon neutral by 2050.
“Reducing carbon is much more complicated and long-term. It’s aspirational, but we should have reduced our carbon output by 30 percent by 2025,” Ghosh said.
Ghosh added funding was an important aspect of moving VCU in a greener direction. He said a lot of the Office of Sustainability’s achievements were made possible because of a $3.3 million federal grant.
“We’ve implemented a lot. We have solar trackers, mobility hubs, the bike programs, electric tracking stations in the parking decks, Zip Car, sustainability initiatives within dining services, 10 certified green buildings, one of the largest owners of green buildings … we’ll have over 1 million square feet of certified green buildings by next year, just to name a few,” he added.
In five years, the Office of Sustainability has had 19 interns and 54 people on the committee comprised of students, staff, faculty, and administrators.
“(Ghosh’s) dedication and expertise has brought students, faculty and staff together under a common goal for improving this university and helped shape what sustainability means to VCU and the surrounding community,” Carpenter said in an email.
Ghosh said he takes pride in how far the university has come because of groups like Green Unity and initiatives like the SGA’s rain garden, the green roof on the Pollak building and King garden at Larrick Student Center.
“I’d say the biggest success of the committee are the less tangible things like branding,” Ghosh said. “At first nobody knew what the Office of Sustainability was, and over time I think that’s changed.”
Before founding the Office of Sustainability, Ghosh was a visiting community scholar in urban economic development at the Wilder School. Ghosh is set to leave VCU by the end of February because his wife has accepted a position as a dean at Temple University.