VCU seeks green ideas

Correction: The question asked by one of the attendees to Erin Stanforth was not “Is the growth of the university sustainable and safe?” The question the attendee asked was if the sustainability goals of the committee have changed because the university is continually growing and expanding. Edits have been made to the article. The CT deeply regrets this error.

Austin Walker
Staff Writer

The VCU Office of Sustainability sought ideas for making campus a greener place in its first town-hall-style meeting on Wednesday.

The ideas were presented by nearly 50 students and faculty. Concepts ranged from the installation of a composting facility in Richmond to the re-education of patrons at the Shafer dining center to reduce waste.

Erin Stanforth, Director of Sustainability at VCU, presided over the event. Those in attendance were given a question: “with a limited budget and a three-to-five year timeline, what can we do to increase sustainability practices at VCU?”

The growth and expansion of the university came under question early into the event. One of the attendees asked Stanforth if the sustainability goals of the committee have changed because the university is continually growing and expanding.

“… that’s a constant question in our sustainability committee. It comes up constantly and we haven’t really come up with a way to address it,” Stanforth said. “We have our baseline which is this amount of greenhouse gas emissions. We could quantify our current emissions as soon as possible but that’s something we’ve been planning.”

Megan Schmidt, a public relations specialist from the University Public Affairs, said the original goal was to make the university climate neutral by 2050. The baseline sustainability measurements for this goal were made in 2008. However, now that the university has physically grown and has undertaken numerous construction projects, Schmidt said the measurements taken now would not be equal to the measurements taken in 2008.

“It’s a mathematical problem the sustainability committee is working to solve so that we can have the most accurate measurement of success in helping to steer the university’s sustainability efforts,” Schmidt said.

Some of the suggestions were to ban the use of styrofoam from vendors on campus. The suggestion comes on the heels of New York City mayor De Blasio’s decision to ban single-use styrofoam containers from being sold within the city.

There was agreement among many in attendance that an effective means of composting the waste produced on campus should be a priority.

Within the past decade, VCU lost their compost system because of a new waste-disposal system.

At the dining centers, space was made for larger dumpsters and regular transport by both food delivery and garbage trucks. Previously, small composting sites operated directly behind the Shafer dining court.

The composting process would also be costly due to the the large amount of non-compostable plastics used on campus.

It was suggested that utilizing some of the available industrial space near VCU and turning it into a composting center would not only allow for a reduction in landfill waste, but could prove to be a successful economic venture that could eventually earn money for the University.

Currently, the closest composting center is 45 minutes away. Greenhouse gas emissions created in transport would nullify the efforts to conserve energy through composting.

Another suggested that, perhaps, there should be a push towards ‘digitizing’ textbooks and providing a means of students replacing the bulky, wasteful paper versions. At some universities, including the University of Virginia, programs have been put into place that force students to purchase e-textbooks for certain courses.

Cycling was a large topic for discussion as well. There was a universal agreement that cycling was an integral part of going green at the university. Issues included: an ineffective way of recycling abandoned bikes on campus, providing more bicycles for students to rent, and making cycling safer around Richmond.

Currently, VCU takes all of the abandoned bikes around campus and donates them to a Richmond cycling center. There were suggestions to keep those bikes within the University, refurbishing them, and, finally, handing them back to students without bikes.

In terms of cycling safety, more bike lanes and repairing sidewalks was the a town-hall-approved suggestion.

At closing, Stanforth said “we are doing some conductive outreach, obviously. We do have an active survey available and anybody can take it. If you do have anything you want to add you can easily tell us.”

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