Climate Action Commitment report highlights actionable recommendations for advancing long-term sustainability
To ensure Virginia Tech implements the most stringent climate and sustainability standards, a working group presented recommendations for the next iteration of the Climate Action Commitment to the Board of Visitors on Nov. 15-16.
Ambitious, actionable, and intentional, the proposed updates boldly build upon a decade of university sustainability efforts. The recommendations aim to guide Virginia Tech toward a greener, more sustainable future over the next five to 10 years.
Delivering on a November 2019 charge from President Tim Sands to renew and revise the 2013 Climate Action Commitment, the recommendations are the culmination of a yearlong collaborative effort led by a working group of 20 faculty, students, and community members appointed by Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer Dwayne Pinkney.
The latest Climate Action Commitment is the commitment’s third iteration. Authorized initially in 2009 under a directive from then-President Charles Steger, the commitment continues to provide a Virginia Tech-specific, actionable framework for advancing sustainability and energy efficiency in campus operations, facilities, academics, research, and more.
The 2009 commitment and subsequent 2013 revisions laid the groundwork to catalyze Virginia Tech’s national leadership status in campus sustainability and university sustainability, advancements that continue to grow in impact today.
Among the accomplishments since 2009 is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent from 2006-19, despite 22 percent growth in campus building size and enrollment. This is in large part due to ongoing investments in energy efficiency outlined in the Climate Action Commitment. From 2015-20, Virginia Tech has invested $14 million in energy efficiency improvements resulting in energy and dollar savings with a five-year payback.
Virginia Tech now has 36 LEED-certified buildings constructed or in progress, amounting to 30 percent of campus space. Achieving LEED silver status or higher has been another commitment tenet since 2009.
The Office of Sustainability formed through the 2009 commitment continues to deliver top-notch sustainability engagement opportunities for students. These include an award-winning internship program and the popular Green RFP program, which has provided university funding for the implementation of 83 student-generated campus sustainability projects over the past decade.
For an overview of the university’s sustainability accomplishments from 2019-20, please refer to the recently-released Annual Sustainability Report.
Among the proposed 2020 Climate Action Commitment updates recently shared with the Board of Visitors are:
- Virginia Tech will aim to achieve carbon neutrality, 100 percent renewable electricity, and zero campus waste status by 2030.
- Virginia Tech will 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.
- To foster the next generation of sustainability leaders, Virginia Tech will strive to integrate sustainability more deeply into the university’s academic mission. This can 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.
- Virginia Tech will commit to delivering 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 thrivign in the new energy economy.
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 updates.
To help ensure successful long-term implementation of the next Climate Action Commitment, a comprehensive financial review of the pathways and outcomes prescribed by the commitment is underway and will move forward in the coming months. The financial model will help determine the financial feasibility and resources needed for implementation.
An update on the review process will be presented to the Board of Visitors in March 2021, along with a resolution to approve the Climate Action Commitment.
“We fully recognize that achievement of our ambitious climate action goals will require deliberate institutional investment in both planning capacity and funding. Our enduring pledge to achieving our core mission remains our guiding principle as we navigate the significant financial challenges brought on by COVID-19. In this light, we will continue to work through the modeling process prudently and collaboratively. Doing so will help guarantee our ultimate success in strengthening Virginia Tech’s leadership role in sustainability and environmental stewardship,” said Pinkney.
“We are incredibly proud of the outstanding efforts, leadership, and collaboration that got us to this point – especially in a dynamic, almost fully virtual COVID-19 environment. Empowered by the remarkable body of support arising through the update process, the working group is highly optimistic of Virginia Tech’s exciting sustainable path forward,” said John Randolph, professor emeritus of urban affairs and planning in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and chair of the Climate Action Commitment working group.
Randolph played an instrumental role in the development of the 2009 commitment and is regarded as a highly engaged member of the university community, the Town of Blacksburg, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and beyond.