VCU advocates a greener community during Earth Week

Photo by Holly DeSalvo.

VCU Sustainability and Green Unity at VCU partnered to spread campus awareness about simple ways to go green this past week.

Earth Week, which was from April 16 to 20, consisted of a variety of eco-friendly events including group bike rides, recycling drives and speaker sessions featuring renowned environmental justice advocates.

“A lot of people don’t realize the importance that their own choices have on our community and on other people,” said Kiara Walker, president of Green Unity at VCU. “We wanted to do Earth Week as a way to get people thinking about the impact of their choices while connecting with other students.”

The week kicked off with movie screenings and a group bike ride around the city.

To promote support for ethical and sustainable brands, an Earth Day bazaar was held at the Student Commons on Wednesday so local artists, jewelry-makers and florists could sell their eco-friendly products.

“As individuals we have the most power to make change,” Walker said. “Simply putting our wallets towards businesses that are doing the best that they can do be more sustainable is making change.”

Environmental activist, scholar and author Vandana Shiva spoke at The Depot Thursday highlighting the importance of attaining environmental and social justice through food and fashion. The university also hosted Erik Curren on Friday. The author spoke alongside other panelists about different renewable and efficient energy options.

“There are plenty of ways Monroe Park could be reducing plastic use and energy use,” said Walker, who moderated the panel.

VCU Sustainability and Green Unity are implementing green initiatives across campus and throughout Richmond. VCU Sustainability director Erin Stanforth said they are working to raise awareness about consumption, environmental injustices and access to consumption alternatives.

“We have a bike loan program, recycling, composting, reusing things,” Stanforth said. “Anything we can do to raise awareness about reducing consumption is really important to us.”

VCU Sustainability and Green Unity aren’t the only university groups working toward a greener Richmond. The psychology department’s Behavioral Health Research Laboratory has its share of eco-friendly initiatives, said Caroline Cobb, a professor in the department and the lab’s founder.  

In conjunction with Earth Week, BHRL held an event April 20 to reduce cigarette butt waste. The most littered item in the world, cigarette butts made up almost 1.7 billion pounds of toxic waste in 2014, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

“We need to bring some greater awareness to how prevalent tobacco-related waste is,” Cobb said. “A lot of people think cigarette butts are biodegradable, but they are not.”

Cobb said BHRL plays a part in emphasizing sustainable efforts despite functioning primarily as a research lab. She said the work of her lab and sustainable organizations intersect more than someone might think.

Earth Week wrapped up with a yoga session Sunday morning. Despite Earth Week coming to a close, Stanforth said people still have many ways to go green.

“A lot of times, faculty, staff and students forget that (VCU is) an entity,” Stanforth said. “(People) will leave rooms and they leave the lights on, or they won’t put the recycling where it’s supposed to go. I know that sounds so small, but when there are 35,000 students it adds up.”

Stanforth said the Green Recognition for Offices and Workspaces program is a great resource for faculty and staff who want to reduce their consumption and waste at the university. More information about GROW can be found at

Saffeya Ahmed, Staff Writer

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