Students, faculty, community members convene for climate change solutions expo

Proposed solutions included increasing local food security, reducing food waste

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Poster boards at the climate expo display proposed solutions for mitigating climate change.

Nick Zugris | Cavalier Daily

The University Office for Sustainability and University Dining hosted a climate solutions expo Tuesday in which students, faculty and community members gathered in the Newcomb Hall ballroom to share and present ideas to combat the effects of climate change and increase sustainability. 

The expo was part of University Sustainability annual Earth Week celebration, which kicked off Monday, and includes a variety of lectures, panels, workshops and other events that promote and teach sustainable living practices at the University and in the local community. 

The Earth Week expo is the largest of the more than 25 events hosted by the student-run group this week and introduced climate solutions based on Project Drawdown’s top 100 solutions for reversing climate change.

Project Drawdown is a non-profit global coalition of scholars, entrepreneurs and advocates who seek to map, measure, model and communicate how existing technology can be utilized to “draw down” carbon emissions in our atmosphere.  The 100 solutions proposed range from reducing food waste, consuming a plant-rich diet, educating girls, expanding renewable energy sources and many more.

In planning this event, University sustainability reached out to  45 University and community organizations that work on addressing these 100 solutions in real world initiatives. Some of these organizations included Campus Kitchens, Veggies of Virginia and the Young Women’s Leadership Program and the Delta Force Program.

Liam Kiniry, a fourth-year Architecture School student and member of University Sustainability, said that the expo allowed the organization to display some of the sustainability efforts taking place on Grounds and in the local community in one place. 

“[It] showcases all the efforts towards sustainability that have been found on Grounds and among all our different partners for sustainability — in and outside the University,” Kiniry said. “It’s like our public face.” 

Many of the initiatives proposed at the expo involved food sustainability and security in the local Charlottesville community. 

Representatives from Campus Kitchens, a national nonprofit, were also in attendance at the event. The University chapter of Campus Kitchens works in close partnership with U.Va. Dining, as well as local restaurants and grocery stores, to collect unused food and donate it to people around the area in need.  

The organization donates over 50 individual meals every week to community members in need, which are delivered to local nonprofits such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Haven, Hope House and Love INC. 

Harry Laird, a representative for Campus Kitchens, said that the University has successfully taken steps to reduce food waste and increase sustainability efforts on Grounds. 

“[The University] has a really strong initiative to cut back on [food waste],” Laird said. “They’ve done the best they can to put out as many metrics as possible to make sure that there's not a lot of food waste.”

The University CIO Veggies of Virginia also made an appearance at the expo to encourage people to sign up for their annual plant-based pledge.  

The plant-based pledge is a week long pledge by students to reduce or completely remove animal products from their plate. Signed-up students receive information each day during the week with guidance for eating vegetarian or vegan diets. Participants are also entered into a raffle to win gift cards for places on the Corner. 

According to statistics produced by the organization, in 2017, 83 people signed up for the week-long pledge, saving upwards of 639,100 gallons of water, 17,430 square feet of forested land, 26.145 pounds of grain and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an equivalent of 1,660 pounds of carbon dioxide as a group.

This year, over 150 people have signed this pledge, which could nearly double these statistics. 

Pooj Seth, a fourth-year global environment and sustainability and economics major, was at the event presenting her capstone project, which proposed an economic solution to food sustainability. 

Seth has developed a pay-it-forward program with local restaurants  —  such as Revolutionary Soup and Take It Away on the Corner —  which allows customers to pay for an extra meal that will be donated to someone unable to purchase a meal themselves. 

“[The program] creates a more dignified manner of consumption in Charlottesville because people don't have to ask for handouts, and they can create more ownership over their food,” Seth said. “[It allows for] people of different socioeconomic statuses to exist together in the same space … giving an equity level to sustainability.” 

Seth added that this equity also allows money to stay in the community and provides resource sharing so that all socioeconomic statuses have access to high quality foods.

Non-food-related groups were also in attendance, including the Young Women Leaders Program and the Delta Force Program. 

The Young Women Leaders Program is run by the University’s Maxine Platzer Women’s Center and the Curry School of education and strives to empower and educate young women both in the Charlottesville area and globally. 

Kelly Hill, a third-year College student involved with the Young Women Leaders Program, said that empowering women is also an initiative that contributes to sustainability.

“When women are educated or empowered ... they contribute more than their male counterparts,” Hill said. “They put more of their money and time back into the environment, and that increases sustainability. When you empower women and they are able to put their resources back into their own farms, they are able to produce more food for their community.”

Jesse Warren, University Sustainability Program Manager, represented the Delta Force Program, which is a University initiative to retrofit University with more energy efficient technology, such as insulation, LED lighting and solar panels. 

Warren said the program has had incredible success so far. Warren cited Clark Hall as an example in which $1.6 million has been invested into energy efficient technology and has reduced annual energy costs in the building from $1.2 million to roughly $600,000, according to Warren. 

“We have a carbon goal that we are supposed to hit by 2025, [and] in order to do this we’ve got to make reductions to the top energy users on Grounds,” Warren said. “In reality, we haven’t been able to get to all of them…[but] we are still meeting our goals because we are seeing bigger than planned reductions in the buildings we have [already] retrofitted.”

Kiniry said while the University has successfully set forth many sustainability and conservation efforts, he added that the full support of the student body is necessary to enact institutional change. 

“The University is pretty on board, [but] it’s pretty hard in an institution, from a student position, to make large scale institutional changes,” Kiniry said. “So that's part of the reason why direct student outreach is so important.”

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