Overall Rating Gold
Overall Score 72.78
Liaison Dennis Cochrane
Submission Date Feb. 18, 2021

STARS v2.2

Virginia Tech
PRE-2: Points of Distinction

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete N/A Dennis Cochrane
Director, Office of Sustainability
Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure and Facilities
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Name of the institution’s featured sustainability program, initiative, or accomplishment:
Virginia Tech 2020 Climate Action Commitment Working Group

A brief description of the institution’s featured program, initiative, or accomplishment:

The Virginia Tech 2020 Climate Action Commitment Working Group was the dominant sustainability activity at Virginia Tech for the past twelve months. This is a defining moment in the advancement of sustainability at Virginia Tech.

In late 2019 – prompted by the demands of students and other community members involved in Climate Strikes and resolutions from the Faculty and Staff Senates, Student Government Association, and Graduate Student Assembly – Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands and Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dr. Dwayne Pinkney established a Climate Action Commitment Working Group comprised of 26 faculty, students, staff, and community members. They selected Professor Emeritus John Randolph to serve as chair of the Climate Action Commitment Working Group and he was ideal for this role having spearheaded the 2009/2013 Climate Action Commitment. In announcing the creation of the Working Group, President Sands stated, “Climate change presents one of the world’s most pressing problems…and Virginia Tech has a duty to respond.”

The Group was charged to assess the university’s progress in implementing the 2009/2013 Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment, compare Virginia Tech’s experience to peer institutions, and develop a new Commitment. While the university has made tremendous strides with advancing sustainability on campus, a decade later it fails to prescribe what climate scientists recognize as necessary actions and also falls short of many peer universities’ recent initiatives.

From January to June 2020, the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment Working Group executed its charge to evaluate the university’s current position and our future role in addressing climate change. During the same period, the global pandemic COVID-19 brought unprecedented hardship and suffering, particularly for the most vulnerable among us. Nevertheless, this unique time is engendering a tremendous spirit of innovation and collaboration. Around the world, people are coming together to address historic challenges. Individuals are becoming bolder and more creative. Every aspect of our lives is being reimagined.

In order to engage a broad range of expertise and perspectives from across the university and wider community and conduct an ambitious work program, the Working Group created 12 Subcommittees having a total of 130 personnel including faculty, staff, students, and members of the local community to investigate and discuss specific issues relevant to the commitment. Most of the subcommittees met weekly from early February through the end of May.

The 12 subcommittees were titled (1) Agriculture, Forestry, and Land Use, (2) Budget and Finance, (3) Buildings Opportunities, (4) Climate Justice, (5) Community Engagement, (6) Energy Opportunities, (7) Greenhouse Gas Inventory, (8) Peer Institutions Comparison, (9) Renewables Opportunities, (10) Structuring Sustainable Choices, (11) Transportation Opportunities, and (12) Waste-Recycling-Composting and Procurement.

The Working Group developed several mechanisms to expand community involvement in the process, including a website and email address for comment and two online surveys. Plans for face-to-face town hall meetings and conference sessions had to be reimagined when the university shut down after spring break. In place of the in-person events, the Working Group hosted 12 Zoom Convening sessions in April, attended by over 220 participants who provided excellent feedback. In anticipation of the Convening sessions, the Working Group and its subcommittees also developed ten creative videos that described the Climate Action Commitment proposals.

The Working Group focused on developing effective strategies the university can advance to achieve meaningful climate action. Throughout the multitude of Working Group, subcommittee, and community Zoom meetings, discussions reflected on the important opportunity for Virginia Tech to reinvent itself, not only in its commitment to climate action, but also in its responsiveness to the needs of the world around us, in the spirit of Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim – That I May Serve.

The working group developed the draft Virginia Tech 2020 Climate Action Commitment including a vision, mission statement, and 15 climate action goals. For each of the 15 goals listed in the revised Climate Action Commitment, the document includes potential pathways to achieve them. At the heart of the revised Climate Action Commitment is the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. The Working Group’s recommendations are bold, aggressive, and comprehensive. Its goals range from necessary upgrades to the campus physical plant to reduce GHG emissions, to integrating those improvements into the educational mission through a Climate Action Living Laboratory, to engaging everyone in creating a culture of sustainability – all to position Virginia Tech as a leader as the clean energy economy evolves in the Commonwealth and around the world.

On July 15, 2020, the Virginia Tech 2020 Climate Action Commitment Working Group Final Report – 2020 was successfully presented by Professor Emeritus John Randolph to Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dr. Dwayne Pinkney. The recommendations were placed in a resolution format. The university council recommended approval of the Commission on University Support Resolution 2020-21A, Resolution to Approve the Virginia Tech 2020 Climate Action Commitment on November 2, 2020.

Professor Emeritus John Randolph successfully presented the final report and recommendations to the full Board of Visitors for consideration on November 15, 2020. The next step is to prepare a financial report that will address the costs associated with approving and adopting this resolution. The financial plan and the formal resolution will be presented to the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors for review and approval at their next regularly scheduled meeting in March 2021.

For additional information, see the attached file in the optional fields.


Which of the following impact areas does the featured program, initiative, or accomplishment most closely relate to?:
Campus Engagement
Public Engagement
Coordination & Planning

Website URL where more information about the accomplishment may be found:
STARS credit in which the featured program, initiative, or accomplishment is reported (if applicable):
PA-2: Sustainability Planning

A photograph or document associated with the featured program, initiative, or accomplishment:
Name of a second highlighted sustainability program/initiative/accomplishment:
Green RFP Program

A brief description of the second program/initiative/accomplishment:

Since 2010, student-generated campus sustainability projects have spurred over $1 million in energy-efficient upgrades across the Virginia Tech campus. Each fall, through the award-winning Green RFP Program, the Office of Sustainability seeks proposals from student groups for campus sustainability projects that support Virginia Tech’s Climate Action Commitment. Submitted proposals are reviewed by the Office of Sustainability and submitted to the university Energy and Sustainability Committee for consideration. The committee prioritizes the proposals and forwards their recommendations to the Office of Budget and Financial Planning for further review, approval, and funding consideration.

The Office of Sustainability received 57 student proposals in fall 2019. Of those proposals, 19 were selected to move forward to be reviewed by the Budget Office. These 19 proposals came from 14 student organizations with funding totaling $286,000. Of the 19 proposals, nine pertain to energy; four pertain to water; two pertain to dining; one pertains to stormwater management; one pertains to landscaping; one pertains to alternative transportation; and one pertains to waste. Due to COVID-19, the status of approving funding for these proposals is on hold. For more information on the Green RFP or to see projects funded prior to 2019, please refer to
https://www.facilities.vt.edu/sustainability/sustainability-programs/green-rfp-program.html

Despite funding concerns relating to COVID-19, the Green RFP program is still up and running in the Fall of 2020. Proposals are being accepted and reviewed and will be funded whenever the funding becomes available in the future, rather than within the traditional one year turnaround that the program has proudly practiced in the past.

The Green RFP program feeds directly into filling one of our goals of our current Climate Action Commitment. Point 14 states, "Virginia Tech will work to provide funding to support sustainability programs. With regard to all the items in this resolution, major personnel and investment decisions, including capital projects, associated with implementing the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment and Sustainability Plan will be based on a joint review of costs and benefits by university financial and facilities staff and be subject to availability of funds."

One exemplary example of a funded student request is the Math Emporium Renovation Green RFP. As a result of a 2018-19 Green RFP, the Math Emporium underwent some renovations during the 2019-2020 academic year. More than 300 energy-efficient LED light fixtures and HVAC controls modifications were installed in the Math Emporium. $194,000 was allocated toward the improvements. Prior to the new changes, the Math Emporium main floor lights came on at once and stayed on 24/7. Newly installed independent control zones with dimming capabilities will help enhance energy conservation during periods of inactivity. The previous halide lights were replaced with LED lights. Due to these changes, the Math Emporium will save approximately 771,000 kWh of energy and $74,000 annually. More information on these renovations can be found at
https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2020/02/ops-mathemporiumLEDs.html.

This program has also spurred a partnership between the Office of Sustainability and an Urban Affairs and Planning class on Environmental Policy and Planning. For many years, the Director of Sustainability has met in-person with Todd Schenk's Environmental Policy and Planning class to give them a presentation on the Green RFP Program and to providing guidance for completing the proposal form. As part of a class assignment, Todd had his students placed in groups and they prepared and submitted proposals. They got the opportunity to learn about the VT Sustainability Program, learn about the VT Climate Active Commitment, and then learn how to write a proposal to include doing research and meeting with university subject matter experts. It is a wonderful learning experience.

With the COVID 19 situation, Todd suggested they do a zoom meeting recording of the Green RFP Program presentation, and he would show it to his 3 classes this year. So on October 21, 2020 Todd Schenk and the Denny Cochrane had a conversation. Todd introduced Denny, Denny got to present Virginia Tech's Sustainability Program, and then concentrate on teaching his students about the Green RFP Program. The idea is that Todd Schenk could use this recording over and over. The video lasts about an hour and can be found at this link:
https://youtu.be/8KOB4rNn-tQ.

The Office of Sustainability recently received national recognition for the Green RFP Program from APPA, Leadership in Educational Facilities, earning the 2019 Sustainability Innovation Award for Facilities Management at the APPA Excellence in 2019 Awards Program in Denver. More information about that award as well as an interview with the Director of Sustainability at VT about the Green RFP Program can be found at this link: https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2019/08/ops-greenRFP9years.html


Which impact areas does the second program/initiative/accomplishment most closely relate to?:
Campus Engagement
Energy
Investment & Finance

Website URL where more information about the second program/initiative/accomplishment may be found:
STARS credit in which the second program/initiative/accomplishment is reported (if applicable):
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

A photograph or document associated with the second program/initiative/accomplishment:
Name of a third highlighted program/initiative/accomplishment:
Office of Sustainability Student Internship Program

A brief description of the third program/initiative/accomplishment:

Point 5 of the current Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment states that “Virginia Tech will maintain a Sustainability Office” and the goes on to list items that the office must do, including “manage a campus-wide student internship and undergraduate research program using the campus as a sustainability laboratory.”

The Office of Sustainability was established within the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities and acts as a central hub to connect the many sustainability champions and efforts taking place all across campus. The office carries out a wide range of activities from high-level sustainability planning to organizing outreach events or managing 20 student interns during the academic year.

The Office of Sustainability’s vision is to create a sustainability network of student and community leaders throughout Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, and the greater New River Valley. The internship program utilizes campus as a sustainability living-learning laboratory, providing students with experiential learning opportunities to explore real-world problems and lead in the development of innovative solutions. Operations, engagement, academics, and professional development are integrated into impactful projects that benefit students and the local community.

The mission of the Student Intern Program is to provide students with valuable opportunities to create lasting, sustainable change at Virginia Tech while developing their professional skills and expanding their knowledge of the inner workings of the university. The program encourages ownership, creativity, and collaboration to solve some of the toughest sustainability problems the world is facing today. The program blends real-world projects with practical, skills-based professional development workshops to prepare students for an ever-changing career in the sustainability field.

The 20 student interns are split into four teams covering topics of Energy, Waste, Water, and Food on campus. The projects the students complete in their topic area, paired with professional development classes and other trainings, allow students to expand their environmental professional skill sets. Intern teams work on a variety of tasks, including:

- Partner Projects: Team will partner with various departments such as Energy Management, Stormwater Management, Sustainable Dining, and Housing and Resident Life to complete technical projects.
- Education and Outreach: Teams will plan and execute outreach events in partnership with community organizations such as The YMCA, Town of Blacksburg, and Blacksburg Farmers Market.
- University-Wide Campaigns: Teams will assist in executing large-scale campaigns including Earth Week, Sustainability Week, and RecycleMania.

Even in the face of COVID-19, the student internship program has successfully continued virtually. Intern teams meet on a weekly basis over Zoom and biweekly with the whole intern group and employees of the Office of Sustainability. The groups have managed to work on projects like creating educational videos about macroinvertebrates for middle school children, research the potential of developing a Green Dorm Room Certification program, and tagging items ordered for dining halls in FoodPro as compostable, recyclable, local, or vegetarian/vegan. Additionally, due to this new virtual format, student interns have been able to focus on social media campaigns across the Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability's social media platforms. These campaigns have allowed for increased outreach and engagement, even in the face of COVID-19.

Over the past few years, student interns have completed a multitude of projects across campus. The Energy Team has written an Electric Vehicle Charging Station Master Plan for the university through a partnership with the Office of University Planning and has updated the Bike Parking Master Plan in partnership with the Department of Alternative Transportation. The Waste Team has created and run a Styrofoam recycling program, performed waste audits, and ran campaigns and events to help teach students about how to reduce their waste. The Water Team has partnered with the Town of Christiansburg and Stormwater Management to develop an interactive display at a children’s museum about water in the urban environment while also providing tips on how to reduce your own personal water use. The Food Team has worked on projects to tag items in FoodPro and has partnered with Dining Services to hold tabling events encouraging students to “Choose to Reuse” by getting reusable to go containers and also reminding students to return them after they are done with them.

As mentioned before, professional development is a big part of this program. The internship program has a partnership with Virginia Tech Career Services to take part in a Cooperative Education and Internship Program (CEIP 3084) where they receive professional development with a mentor on a sustainability topic. The class is reflected in the student’s official transcript and they learn valuable skills to give them a head start in their chosen career.

Over the past few years, the Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability has partnered with the neighboring Radford University’s Office of Sustainability to bring together both student intern groups to collaborate and network. Traditionally, the event took place at the Selu Conservancy. The interns would get together for a little over half a day to give presentations on the progress of their own projects, participate in though-provoking conversations about prioritizing areas of sustainability through an activity, and go through an exercise that allowed them to take on different roles as stakeholders in a hypothetical urban development scenario. These meetings and activities allowed students to think critically about why someone may have a different opinion than them and understand where they’re coming from, allowing for deeper, more understanding and productive conversations around topics in sustainability.

These meetings have continued despite the influx of COVID-19 and have actually increased in frequency. The two groups met twice during the Fall 2020 semester over Zoom and are developing ideas for projects that the two schools can participate in together over the coming Spring semester.

The partnership between Virginia Tech and Radford was the focus of a presentation to over 6,000 attendees at the Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education. The conference, organized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, is the largest stage to exchange effective models, policies, research, collaborations, and transformative actions that advance sustainability in higher education and local communities. The Virginia Tech-Radford University presentation focused on a January 2020 workshop, where nearly 30 student interns from both universities met together at Selu Conservancy for a session on scaling their collective sustainability efforts to boost environmental stewardship in the New River Valley. One of the key workshop themes King and Nease spoke to was how a shared business model can be applied to advancing sustainability and reducing a community’s environmental impact. More information about this presentation and the collaboration between Virginia Tech and Radford can be found in this article: https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2020/12/campusplanning-vtradfordsustainable.html?utm_source=cmpgn_news&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=vtUnirelNewsDailyCMP_120420-fs

Based off of the success and positive feedback from the internship partnership between Virginia Tech and Radford, the two offices are working together to plan a state-wide sustainability conference for students. The idea is that students will be able to help in the planning process of the conference, help run the conference, and even be the ones to present at or attend the conference. This way, students can network with each other and get ideas about program that they may be able to implement at their own universities after learning about it at the conference.

The student internship program through the Office of Sustainability at Virginia Tech allows students to develop sustainable solutions in all areas of campus while forming professional relationships with partners in the community. This program received the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in 2018-19 and continues to stand out at our university as a strong program with concrete positive outcomes not only for the students professionally and personally, but also for the university as they promote positive environmental, economic, and social change.

More information on the student internship program can be found here:
facilities.vt.edu/sustainability/sustainability-programs/energy-and-sustainability-internship-program.html


Which impact areas does the third program/initiative/accomplishment most closely relate to?:
Campus Engagement
Public Engagement
Coordination & Planning

Website URL where more information about the third program/initiative/accomplishment may be found:
STARS credit in which the third program/initiative/accomplishment is reported (if applicable):
EN-1: Student Educators Program

A photograph or document associated with the third program/initiative/accomplishment:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.