2020 Climate Action Commitment delivers pathways toward a sustainable future at Virginia Tech
March 23, 2021
Building upon a decade of environmental stewardship efforts, Virginia Tech has reaffirmed its dedication to campus sustainability through recent revisions of its Climate Action Commitment.
The third iteration of the commitment was approved by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors on March 22.
Authorized initially in 2009 under a directive from then-President Charles Steger, the Climate Action Commitment provides a Virginia Tech-specific, actionable framework for advancing sustainability and energy efficiency in campus operations, academics, research, and more.
Delivering on a November 2019 charge from President Tim Sands to renew and revise the 2013 Climate Action Commitment, the latest recommendations are the culmination of an over-yearlong collaborative effort led by a working group of faculty, students, and community members.
The 2020 commitment includes 15 recommendations for advancing long-term university sustainability over the next five-to-10 years. Among the recommendations are:
- Aim to achieve carbon neutrality, 100 percent renewable electricity, and zero campus waste status by 2030.
- Strive to improve the efficiency of campus energy systems by completing the total conversion of steam plant fuel to natural gas by 2025 and plan for a full transition to renewable steam plant fuel after 2025.
- Integrate sustainability more deeply into the university’s academic mission. Fostering the next generation of sustainability leaders, this will be achieved through enhanced curriculum-building and implementation of a new Climate Action Living Laboratory, where students can gain hands-on experience in areas like green energy production and integration of green energy infrastructure in campus buildings.
- Establish climate justice as a core value of the Climate Action Commitment through multiple strategies, including establishing a Climate Justice Subcommittee of the revised Climate Action, Sustainability, and Energy Committee by 2021 to more deliberately integrate student, employee, and community member voices in sustainability implementation efforts.
- Commit ongoing support, outreach, and educational programming to communities adversely affected by climate action implementation plans, including coalfield communities, to assist these groups in mitigating and adapting to climate change and thriving in the new energy economy.
The actualization of these recommendations depends on comprehensive planning, unparalleled collaboration, and a shared pledge to advancing sustainability.
Fortunately, Virginia Tech already has a running start in all of these areas.
More than a decade of campus sustainability achievements contribute a strong foundation for implementation.
For instance, extensive groundwork has been laid in bolstering energy efficiency and reducing energy usage in university buildings. The Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability continues to expand hands-on sustainability experiential learning opportunities for students through its internship and Green RFP programs. Integration of sustainability into policymaking related to campus operations is also helping to foster a culture of environmental stewardship at Virginia Tech.
The year-and-a-half of extensive planning and collaboration driving the latest commitment updates will also help shepherd implementation. The recommendations and supporting pathways were cultivated through a highly collaborative process that included broad best practices research, peer reviews, and the insights and expertise of university and local sustainability leaders, and the student community.
Stakeholders working on the updates invested countless hours in developing detailed methodologies to achieve each recommendation. While they approached campus sustainability through different lenses – facilities, finance, academics, dining, transportation, and more – their perspectives converged around a collective commitment to reducing Virginia Tech’s environmental footprint.
Most recently, a comprehensive financial review of the strategies and outcomes prescribed by the commitment was conducted. In particular, the review focused on the financial resources needed to transform campus energy infrastructure in pursuit of enhanced renewable electricity.
The findings were presented alongside the final commitment recommendations at the March Board of Visitors meeting.
“In the decade since the inaugural Climate Action Commitment was approved, Virginia Tech has made outstanding strides in creating a more sustainable campus. I am deeply grateful for the hard work, detailed planning, and dialogue that have underscored the entire Climate Action Commitment revision process. All of these critical elements are force multipliers that will help us achieve long-term success,” Sands said.
“While there is a great deal of hard work ahead of us, as a global land-grant university and as Hokies, we have a duty to address climate change. We are ready to meet this challenge head-on.”
Please refer to the 2020 Climate Action Commitment Working Group Executive Report for a full list of suggested actions and to learn more about the methodologies, community engagement opportunities, and governance process that helped shape the commitment.
For an overview of the university’s sustainability accomplishments from 2019-20, please refer to the recently-released Annual Sustainability Report.