New sustainability director plants her roots for new year

Ali Jones
Contributing Writer

Erin Stanforth formerly headed the largest sustainability higher education organization in Portland, Oregon and will begin directing the VCU program this fall. Photo courtesy of Erin Stanforth.

VCU’s Sustainability Program is getting a breath of fresh air with a recent change in  leadership.

Jacek Ghosh, the founder of the program, retired from the position of sustainability director in Feb. 2014 after five years. Under Ghosh, VCU increased its ranking on the Sustainability Endowments Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card from a “C-” to an “A-” grade, making VCU the “greenest” school in Virginia.

Erin Stanforth, recently hired as Ghosh’s successor, has plans for the continuing achievement of the department.

“I have heard nothing but positive things about Jacek, he truly built a great program […] he has left some big shoes to fill,” Stanforth said.

Stanforth explained that she was previously a sustainability manager for over seven years at Portland Community College in Oregon. While there, Stanforth was responsible for the largest higher education organization in Oregon with the college’s ten campuses and centers and over 90,000 students.

Despite the task load of such a large population, Stanforth said she transferred to VCU because she was looking for a challenge. 

“Portland is a very sustainable place, and it almost seems too easy to do sustainability work there […] I was looking for a city where sustainability was not the norm yet,” Stanforth said. 

Stanforth was additionally attracted to VCU’s four year institution which contains a strong residential population and research platform.

As Stanforth settles into the new position, she plans to enact several goals for the following year, which include streamlining single stream recycling and making the first residence hall-based Eco-Rep program.

In 2012-13, the Office of Sustainability began to roll out single-streaming recycling, which is the process of depositing all recyclable materials in one container. This process was met with varied success, but Stanforth aims to build upon that step forward.

“I want to increase the outreach efforts to the faculty and staff and students, as well as increase the visibility of how single stream recycling works,” Stanforth said. “I am also very interested in making the Siegel Center a low-zero waste facility during men’s basketball season.”

In terms of making the first Eco-Rep program a success, Stanforth said providing continuous support to all Eco-Reps through the Office of Sustainability is necessary. This will be the first year for this program.

“This is the first year Housing and Residence Life is instituting an Eco-Rep program [in each residence hall], and the Office of Sustainability is extremely interested in helping this program be as successful as possible,” Stanforth said. “Because this is the first year we’re doing this program, I think it will take a life of its own.”

Stanforth also plans on assisting with integrating the 2015 world championship cycling race taking place in Richmond next Sep. into VCU’s current alternative transportation program. She said she hopes to assist with advising the city on the race initiatives, and expanding educational offerings related to sustainability via the Sustainability Academic Leadership Team and bettering the integration of VCU’s Office of Sustainability with the city of Richmond.

 Stanforth said the process of drafting a new sustainability plan by May 15th is underway, and the budget will also be explored further as the year progresses.

Increasing outreach to the faculty, staff and students not only regarding specific recycling information, but as well as overall sustainability progress and information is especially important, she added.

“I find that oftentimes sustainability folks get so ‘in the weeds’ on projects and programs that we forget to tell people about all of the great things we are accomplishing […] this year, I hope to broaden our outreach efforts to faculty, staff and students so all VCU entities will know what a leader in sustainability VCU truly is,” Stanforth said.

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