From 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, the Office of Sustainability’s Eco-Fair adorned the blooming South Lawn with booths and activities that promoted sustainable living habits and practices. The fair showcased the theme “How to Save a Planet '' and welcomed University organizations and CIOs, local businesses in the Charlottesville community and city representatives to aid in emphasizing this message.
Throughout the month of April, there have been almost 50 events at the University promoting sustainable living and greener practices — all submitted to the Office of Sustainability’s April Earth events calendar. According to Dana Schroeder, outreach and engagement specialist at the Office for Sustainability, only a few of these events were hosted directly by the Office for Sustainability itself.
Schroeder said she thinks this community involvement is a true testament to the building push for planet-based action in the University community.
“We are so lucky that every year, momentum builds,” Schroeder said. “We used to coordinate ‘Earth Week’ but now we collect events happening almost all April long — now calling it our ‘Earth Day Every Day’ celebration. We now encourage every school, department and CIO to host an annual event this time of year with the planet in mind. It’s a great theme to rally around and can be connected to the missions of so many different groups.”
“How to Save a Planet” is a theme that emerged for the Eco-Fair from the Sustainability Office’s conceptual planning that began at the beginning of this spring semester. The theme is based on the title of a popular podcast whose goal is to leave people energized about combating climate change — an action-oriented message that the Sustainability Office believed was vital to share with its surrounding community.
“The idea of the event is to help U.Va. students, faculty, staff and visitors find their ‘niche’ in the climate and sustainability movement,” Schroeder said. “Each interactive table on the Lawn will focus on an important but often overlooked action that could help save the planet. We want to help attendees go beyond recycling and turning off lights, uncovering the actions that really amount to big change.”
To represent this theme, the Sustainability Office’s four student employee teams — including the outreach, waste minimization, green living and service learning teams — each hosted their own booth at the Eco Fair. The four tables’ themes included focuses on sustainable careers, sustainable travel abroad opportunities, finding sustainable opportunities within your major program and how to service the Earth on Grounds.
The inclusive array of themes emphasizes the notion that sustainable practices and choices can be implemented in almost every aspect of one’s day to day life — even as a University student. Third-year College student Megan Young is one of the outreach employees at the Sustainability Office and noted the opportunities offered at one of the student-led tables — the sustainable careers table — as well as her own enthusiasm for the theme of the booth itself.
“[We] have testimonies from various former U.Va. students that are now employed in … sustainability-related roles, as well as some other engagement materials with career opportunities and resources at U.Va. as well as a Buzzfeed-type quiz to figure out what sustainability-related career could be for you based off [of] your interests,” Young said. “I'm really excited to be able to have those conversations with students who don't realize that their major could lead them to a sustainability-related career.”
As the Eco-Fair kicked off at noon, students began by picking up two tickets from the entrance to the fair which they could exchange for treats — including popsicles from La Flor Michoacana — or raffle entries to win different companies’ sustainable products. The main tables at the event circled around South Lawn with student-run booths on one side and local organizations on the other — these booths were partnered with employees from the Office of Sustainability. On the edge of South Lawn stood a diverse showing of the University Facilities Management Fleet’s electric, hybrid and electric-assisted vehicles which were presented by Michael Duffy, transportation operations and fleet manager.
In addition to this display of vehicles, there was a myriad of tables from University programs — including U.Va. Recycling and the ReUse store — and local businesses and operations such as Dogwood Refillery, Black Bear Composting, the Community Climate Collaborative and LEAP where students were able to interact with representatives. The assortment of opportunities and the positive-minded representatives created a fun atmosphere for students to learn more about climate-based and sustainable actions.
One table in particular — the Cville Solar Project — had a booth that was making pancakes on solar-powered griddles, turning the heads of student attendees as they walked past. Fourth-year Engineering student Adam O’Neill stressed that the Cville Solar Project is not just about generating solar power, but making renewable energy accessible to the community overall. He further explained that one of the main goals of the CIO is to show people firsthand how alternative energy can work.
“We actually don't have anybody — like any professionals — helping us put this together,” O’Neill said. “We just kind of learned how to do it ourselves [and] it works. And you can put solar anywhere — you can put it on your lawn, you can power your home appliances and it's really not intrusive. Once you see it in action, I think it has an impact.”
Similar to O’Neill’s emphasis on putting sustainable practices into action to prove their attainability, Young iterated how climate change and environmental issues can be daunting to students and anyone who focuses on the overwhelming full picture. When a person is able to take a step back and focus on smaller, independent changes, Young said, sustainable practices become far more reasonable to strive for in a person’s daily lifestyle.
“I think there's a lot in the news about climate change and about global warming, and I think that it can be a little bit overwhelming and sometimes kind of nihilistic to think [about],” Young said. “But there's a lot that can be done on the individual level. And obviously, it's not [an] individual's responsibility to fix the planet all by yourself. But I think that there's a lot that we can do that just involves really small changes in your life, and one of our mottos in the office is ‘progress over perfection.’”
For second-year College student Emily Cheng, the Eco-Fair was an informative experience to learn about the opportunities and organizations at both the University and in the community. Although she is not directly involved in any sustainability organizations yet, she is dedicated to improving the environment and is looking for new ways to continue growing towards this goal.
“I haven't really had the time to research what kind of sustainability clubs we had on grounds [previously],” Cheng said. “But now that I have a better understanding of what my options are, I would definitely consider getting involved … We all only have one Earth and I think it's everybody's responsibility to try to take good care of it because there's a really important future for all of us and the people that come after us and I think preserving it is one of the most important things that we can do.”
As a student at the University who recognizes the transition to living alone and finding new individuality, second-year College student Julianne Feuchter stressed the importance of using this newfound time as an opportunity to establish sustainable practices.
“For a lot of us It is our first time being on our own, and … making these intentional changes,” Feuchter said. “If we can really communicate the importance of sustainability to students, right now, when they're figuring out how to live on their own, when they're figuring out how to make meals for themselves, what kind of products to be buying … that's really important because that's going to impact their lives going forward.”
Schroeder mirrored these sentiments and emphasized that just like any habit, sustainable choices will stick with students all the better if they choose to start practicing them now. The Eco-Fair provided numerous examples and interactive opportunities for learning how to start working towards these habits that she hopes will persist in the long run.
“Working on sustainability at a university is amazing, because students have their whole lives and careers ahead of them,” Schroeder said. “Any habit you develop now or skill you build at U.Va. can stick with you through the rest of your life … Just like investing, if you start when you’re young, it all really adds up over a lifetime.”