Through collaboration across the community and the state, the University of Virginia plans to be carbon neutral by 2030.
UVa and the College of William & Mary on Monday announced a partnership to reach their carbon neutrality goals. Both schools already have been making serious steps toward reducing their admissions, as well as fostering other sustainability initiatives, but say this new goal is a natural fit for broader efforts across the commonwealth.
The two state schools will share information and collaborate on initiatives aimed at achieving zero net greenhouse emissions, according to a joint news release. The schools will collaborate on outreach and engagement opportunities internally and with their surrounding localities, as well as support other higher education institutions.
The commitments follow an executive order issued earlier this year by Gov. Ralph Northam that seeks for Virginia to produce 100% of its energy from carbon-free sources by 2050.
Andrea Trimble, director of UVa’s Office of Sustainability, said that over the past several years both her office and the school at large have taken significant steps to achieve sustainability.
In February, UVa staff met with representatives from Albemarle County and Charlottesville to discuss climate goals and sustainability efforts, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, both localities have moved forward with their own efforts, but Trimble stressed that UVa’s initiatives and partnership with William & Mary are intended to be collaborative.
“We have this big goal but it’s meant to be collaborative — it really will take everyone to achieve the changes necessary to meet our goals,” she said. “We need to foster engagement within the community, as well as research and discover new solutions.”
Trimble said that in 2011, the Board of Visitors endorsed a goal for UVa to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below 2009 levels by 2025. That goal is expected to be reached by the end of this year, she said, six years ahead of schedule.
Trimble said a big part of reaching the goal early was the creation of two solar facilities — the Hollyfield and Puller facilities, located in the counties of King William and Middlesex, respectively.
“Together, the facilities produce around 21% of the electricity used by the university,” she said. “They are a major step in the right direction.”
Part of the efforts from William & Mary will involve the creation of the Institute for Integrative Conservation. Funded by $19.3 million donated by an anonymous alumna, the institute will support multidisciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students to address conservation issues in a multitude of ways, according to the release.
Among the issues that could be addressed by the institute are sea-level rise and coastal stability, biodiversity threats and human-wildlife conflict, among others.
On Friday, UVa’s Board of Visitors is expected to discuss and approve a sustainability plan for 2020-2030 that builds on previously set sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions goals.
The plan includes a wide range of strategies that will increase efficiency and reduce UVa’s operational impact on the environment, according to the release. The latest goals include implementing a climate action plan, expanding plant-based meal offerings, switching to sustainably-raised meats, reducing food waste and increasing access to community-based producers and sourcing local foods.
Jim Murray, rector of UVa, applauded the opportunity to set more aggressive targets and to collaborate with W&M and others.
“Sustainability is a strategic priority for the University of Virginia, but it’s an important issue for everyone,” Murray said in the release. “The Board of Visitors is eager to join the discussion around how UVa can both play a leadership role and be a good partner.”
On an individual level, Trimble said there are a variety of ways people can get involved in their own homes and communities.
“Being a voice of support for sustainable initiatives is an important part of affecting change,” she said.