Students use grounds as a living laboratory

Committee on Sustainability hosts showcase on sustainability-minded research projects

The Committee on Sustainability at U.Va. hosted a Sustainability Symposium Wednesday as part of the committee’s Sustainability Days that took place Nov. 14-16. These days were meant to act as a fall counterpart to Earth Day, which is April 22. 

The symposium showcased eight projects to which the committee awarded development grants. Over two dozen people attended the event, which was hosted at the Colonnade Club. 

“This was just a way to show the community, those who are interested in sustainability — if you’re going to use the University as a place to do research on sustainability issues, what are the kinds of projects that you could do?” said James Galloway, an environmental science professor and one of the event’s coordinators. 

Galloway said the committee has certain criteria it follows when looking for projects. First off, the project must be feasible and well-defined with a definite objective and planned research. It must also allow for student involvement to provide an interactive experience for the University community on Grounds. These projects then received $8,000 each to research and execute their project, Galloway said.

“We develop opportunities — we treat the university as a living lab to do experiments, and this is really an experiment,” Galloway said.

The committee received an incredibly diverse array of submissions for the projects. The topics ranged from Bee Hotels to consumer surveys about sustainability set up at In the Nood. These projects treated the University as a “living lab” — a place to test their experiments on Grounds in real scenarios while promoting sustainability in different aspects of life, like how food choices or switching to LED lights affects the environment around us.

The committee utilized one of the projects during the event. The symposium catered various hors d’oeuvres decorated by miniature green leaves pictured above the platters. Every single food item present was listed, from crackers to brownies, and rated based off of how sustainable the food was — which was calculated by how much the item contributed to nitrogen and carbon pollution. Items were rated from one to five leaves based on how sustainable their ingredients and method of procurement were, and that would be reflected on the chart. 

This display was part of a project called "Shifting Consumer Demand with Environmental Impact Labeling and Social Psychological Interventions,” which explored if sustainability ratings attached to food would change people’s food choices. The project is currently still ongoing and is planned to continue until early December.  

“The goal of our project was to ... make people mindful that sustainability is something they should think about when ordering food,” Psychology Prof. Tim Wilson said. “If you’re like me, you look at a bunch of food and it’s hard to know which ones are actually sustainable and which ones are not.”

The committee in the coming year is interested in funding more projects like these, as well as starting more courses linked to sustainability. Grant applications are due on Dec. 4. 

related stories