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U.Va. Office of Sustainability announces Sustainability Leadership Award recipients

Winners are celebrated for aiding the University’s 2030 Sustainability Plan

These awards celebrated several accomplishments in the field of environmental sustainability, such as the redistribution of 2.5 million pounds of food to people in need in 2023 by the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.
These awards celebrated several accomplishments in the field of environmental sustainability, such as the redistribution of 2.5 million pounds of food to people in need in 2023 by the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.

The University’s Office of Sustainability celebrated five students, one professor and four staff members with Sustainability Leadership Awards for their efforts to advance President Jim Ryan’s U.Va. 2030 Sustainability Plan, which has the goal of making the University carbon neutral by 2030 and free of fossil fuels by 2050. The Community Climate Collaborative and the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry also received Sustainability Leadership Awards for their commitment to environmental sustainability by providing clean energy and combating food insecurity in the Charlottesville area.    

The Sustainability Leadership Awards were first established by the Office of Sustainability in 2017 to annually recognize outstanding members of the University community who demonstrate civic engagement and stewardship in the field of environmental sustainability. 

Community member candidates must be residents of Virginia who engage in work related to environmental conservation and stewardship, academic discovery or advances in governance or policy. University candidates for the Sustainability Leadership Award must be a current student, faculty or staff member at the University or the College at Wise and display a commitment to the University’s 2030 Sustainability Plan. 

The awards, which come with a $1,000 cash prize, are given to four distinct groups: University students or student groups, University faculty or faculty departments, University staff or staff departments and non-University community members or organizations. All winners are invited to a celebratory luncheon May 3rd wherein they will receive their awards and cash prize from the Office of Sustainability. 

One student who has one a Sustainability Leadership Award is third-year College student Leah Germain, who received an award for her work with the Decarbonization Academy as a 2023 Decarbonization Fellow, where she planted forest patches with the goal of growing trees in compact areas on Grounds to help decrease the University’s carbon footprint. 

“Over the summer, we did a lot of research and we got really into the topic [of forest patches], and then once the summer ended, we decided to continue all of our research and work on this as supervised research for credit,” Germain said. “Working closely with [facilities management], we gathered a plan to plant our first forest patch.”

Germain said that she and the other 2023 Decarbonization Fellows — third-year Architecture student Madeline Morphis and fourth-year College student Olivia Vargo — started the initiative last October and have since planted five forest patches across the University, with plans to plant a sixth at Hereford residential college April 12.

Germain said that she and the Decarbonization Fellows are looking forward to returning to the University in the future to see the impact that their forest patches have made on how the University landscapes forestry, and that they are hoping to encourage the planting of more forests in the area.

Another award went to Rebecca Duff, director of thought leadership at the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Duff received a faculty leadership award for her work as director of the Darden School of Business Sustainability Research Initiative, where she seeks to provide a space for leaders to express their thoughts on the impact of environmentalism on economic and social issues. Duff also established and co-chaired the new Darden Sustainability Advisory Council, which recommends ways to achieve Darden’s 2030 sustainability goals of reducing water and waste by 30%, electrifying all fossil fuel infrastructure, and eliminating single use plastics. 

“The council was created as a way to provide recommendations and guidance to the school in terms of priorities and ways to implement activities [in alignment with] the 2030 goals,” Duff said. “The goal of the Initiative is to bring that faculty thought leadership and expertise to practitioners and the rest of the world [as well as] expand the curriculum, the cases and also hands on opportunities [for students] through internships and other opportunities around sustainability.” 

Batten student Garreth Bartholomew also received an award for his work in programs relating to food waste reduction and food access. One such program is Food Assist, a local chapter of the national Food Recovery Network, which partners with Chipotle, Starbucks, Bodo’s Bagels and other local businesses in the area to transport what would become food waste to those in need in the greater Charlottesville community. 

“We've been able to save 20,000 pounds [of food] from going in the trash,” Bartholomew said. “Not only do you not have to produce the food and create the emissions to produce food, but also it doesn't create anaerobic respiration and about 50,000 pounds of greenhouse gasses. But even more important is the aspect of food insecurity.”

Other awards given in the field of environmental sustainability included an award to the Loaves & Fishes Good Pantry for redistributing 2.5 million pounds of food to people in need in 2023 and to Trades Apprentice Ryan McCarthy for establishing a Facilities Management Snack Pantry to provide food for over 1,000 employees.

MaeEllen Megginson, Student Council director of sustainability and third year College student, spoke to the importance of granting awards for sustainability efforts. She said she appreciates that the University offers awards for every part of the University and greater Charlottesville community because it recognizes that sustainability efforts can be approached from many different angles. Megginson added that she hopes the University will continue to build on the effort and hard work that has already been put into creating a more sustainable University.

“It's so important to recognize the people putting in work that often don't get recognition. Sustainability work doesn't always see immediate results, so any opportunity to celebrate the behind the scenes efforts is really exciting and important,” Megginson said. “We've already made incredible progress and I believe we can exceed [the goals of the 2030 Plan] by collaborating and combining strengths from across grounds.”

A full list of this year’s Sustainability Leadership Award winners can be found on the Office of Sustainability’s website.

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