The Board of Visitors met in the Rotunda Boardroom Thursday afternoon for its Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting, during which the Board discussed annual reports on sustainability and infrastructure. The University’s Committee on Sustainability discussed its 2016-2020 Sustainability Plan and announced that this December the University will meet its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent between 2009 and 2025, meaning the goal will be reached six years ahead of schedule.
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report stating that between 2030 and 2052 human activities will likely be responsible for 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. The IPCC calls for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero in order to completely mitigate effects of climate change.
During Thursday’s meeting, Cheryl Gomez, director of operations for facilities management, and Phoebe Crisman, associate professor of architecture and director of global studies, presented information to the Board as co-chairs of the Committee on Sustainability.
In the presentation, the chairs attributed the reduction in carbon emissions to investments in energy efficiency, utility scale solar and technology innovations, among other initiatives to promote clean energy. Currently, 20 percent of the University’s electricity is generated by two utility-scale solar fields at Hollyfield and Puller.
The Committee also reported that, in comparison to 2010 levels, the University has reduced reactive nitrogen emissions by 17 percent and potable water use by 11.7 percent. Last year, the University diverted 6,500 tons from landfills by recycling 44 percent of its waste, with the long-term goal of landfilling less than 2000 tons annually by 2035. The Committee aims to reduce total tonnage of waste generated by 50 percent from 2014 levels by 2035, and so far the University has reduced its waste by 4.7 percent.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Derrick Wang, a fourth-year College student and student member of the Board of Visitors, said the University’s progress in sustainability is crucial, particularly to students, as the generation most directly faced with the effects of climate change.
“Especially among our generation of students, issues related to sustainability and climate change are just so critical, right?” Wang said. “I mean, it's not just an issue of concern, but potentially an existential issue.”
Wang said he is confident that the University is moving in a progressive direction in terms of sustainability, and that the Board will discuss new goals to work toward at its next meeting in December.
“I'm heartened to see that U.Va. is focusing a lot of effort on its stewardship of natural resources, greenhouse gases, energy, water, all of these different important measures,” Wang said. “So I think U.Va. has been focused on sustainability for a while, but I think now that national attention is on the issue, I think it's important that we keep moving forward.”