LICHTENSTEIN: Students should commit to sustainability efforts

U.Va. could have a great impact on conservation with widespread student support


Water conservation is one of the many steps students can take to promote conservation on Grounds.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Charlottesville City Council declared a drought warning and imposed restrictions for all city residents and businesses on Oct. 11. Citing recent dry weather and low reservoir levels, the Council stressed the importance of individual efforts to conserve water. The University has expressed its commitment to the conservation effort, and has communicated with students the importance of their individual contributions. In fact, this commitment extends beyond the current, local drought as part of Sustainability at U.Va., the University’s initiative to improve its footprint on Grounds. As members of the Charlottesville community, students have a responsibility to consciously reduce their water usage while the drought is in effect. In addition, students should continue their conservation efforts beyond the drought period, and incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lifestyles. 

The mandatory restrictions put in place by the Council mainly apply to outdoor watering and washing activities, which usually don’t apply to students. There are actions students can take, however, which will effectively contribute to the ongoing conservation effort. Water usage while brushing your teeth, washing your hands and shaving can be reduced without inconvenience. Students can also limit the time they spend in the shower, use the dishwasher as opposed to washing dishes by hand and run full laundry loads. Moreover, the city is offering free water conservation kits which can help limit water usage. These modifications may seem insignificant, but the combination of these individual efforts will greatly improve the drought. 

In addition to its current mandatory drought restrictions, Sustainability at U.Va. works to improve the wellbeing of the community by monitoring ongoing environmental processes and modifying practices to improve its environmental impact. The University has set a goal of reducing potable water use 25 percent below 2010 levels by 2035. Records show significant progress towards that goal, with 2016 seeing a 10.4 percent reduction. To reach desired reduction in water usage, the entire University community must contribute to water conservation efforts. In modifying their daily water use during the drought, students will recognize the ease with which they can contribute to the University’s Sustainability Plan. Once students recognize their potential impact, they should extend their efforts beyond this drought period. 

Sustainability at U.Va. addresses the University’s environmental impact beyond its water usage, in areas such as energy consumption, waste diversion, land usage and several others. The Board of Visitors’ June 2017 Sustainability Update highlights the University’s leadership in solar energy and its success in waste diversion at the Feb. 27 sold-out men’s basketball game against UNC, where 93.4 percent of waste was diverted from landfills. The report also mentioned a 11 percent reduction from 2009 greenhouse gas emissions levels and a 10 percent reduction from 2010 building energy use intensity levels. The University’s efforts to improve sustainability are reaping rewards, and continued efforts by the community will only bring greater success.   

The University provides members of the community with several meaningful ways to implement sustainable practices in their daily lives. The program offers sustainability training for its employees, through which individuals can learn how to adopt environmentally friendly practices. The University also consistently announces sustainability tips and programs tailored to students, including monthly green tips and funding for student groups focused on sustainability. The Green Leaders initiative, recently established by the Student Council Sustainability Committee, fosters collaboration between the 43 sustainability-focused student groups. These groups cover a wide variety of interests, and are all dedicated to increasing sustainability in their respective fields. Clearly, students have many pathways to make their daily lives more sustainable. 

Creating a sustainable future for the University is critical to ensuring continued excellence as an institution. The growing number of remarkable initiatives and programs — both academic and extracurricular — requires increased use of finite resources. This increased use raises the cost of energy and other basic goods such as fresh water. To adequately account for this increased use, the University must implement strategies that conserve resources and protect the environment. Students must also recognize the integral role sustainability will play in their futures, and then implement sustainable practices in their daily lives. The current drought in Charlottesville offers students an opportunity to start living a sustainable lifestyle — a practice that should continue for the rest of their lives.

Jake Lichtenstein is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He may be reached at

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