First Virginia Tech Green Campus Challenge a success

A Virginia Tech recycling truck

The challenge aimed to prompt action by departments by giving them the opportunity to adopt such policies and practices in the process of completing the survey and thus score points.

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 3, 2010 – The Energy and Sustainability Committee at Virginia Tech conducted the first Virginia Tech Green Campus Challenge earlier this spring, and its results proved to be a success.

The challenge, held this year March 5 to April 16, is important for implementation of the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment Resolution and Sustainability Plan adopted by the Board of Visitors in June 2009, according to the committee.

Blacksburg campus departments with 10 employees or more were eligible to complete the Green Campus Challenge survey. Fifty departments participated in the challenge representing 4,747 employees or two-thirds of the Blacksburg campus work force. The challenge survey asked responding departments to score points if they had policies and practices to reduce energy and material waste, maximize recycling, and avoid transportation impacts of meetings and commuting.

The challenge aimed to prompt action by departments by giving them the opportunity to adopt such policies and practices in the process of completing the survey and thus score points.

For additional points, the challenge survey also asked responding departments to identify a Green Campus Communication Representative from their department to participate in a continuing cross-campus dialogue about sustainability practices, as well as cite innovative policies and practices that they have adopted. Finally, the survey asked respondents to suggest good ideas to enhance campus sustainability.

The Green Campus Challenge was modeled after the Green Commonwealth Challenge that was issued to all Virginia state agencies and conducted during the period from June to November 2009. Virginia Tech placed third in the Green Commonwealth Challenge, partially because of its commitment to conduct the Green Campus Challenge. As a result of the Green Commonwealth Challenge award, all salaried staff and calendar-year faculty received an extra leave day, referred to by university President Charles W. Steger as a Green Challenge Holiday.

The following 50 departments participated in the survey:

Results of the Green Campus Challenge Survey can be viewed on the Office of Sustainability website. The survey contained a maximum of 320 points, of which 50 were dedicated to innovative sustainability practices cited by the responding departments. Points were awarded to the innovative practices by the Energy and Sustainability Committee.

With the encouragement provided by the challenge, a large number of responding departments have adopted sustainability practices. For example, 74 percent of responding departments now have a policy to have employees shut down computers at night, 88 percent to turn off lights at close of business, 94 percent to encourage use of recycling containers, 86 percent to print and copy on both sides of the paper, and 90 percent to use electronic rather than print media for reports and newsletters. Essentially all responding departments use at least 30 percent recycled content paper.

With regard to transportation savings, 76 percent have a policy encouraging carpooling to meetings, 34 percent have a flex-work schedule policy, and 60 percent have a telecommuting policy. Respondents indicated that they estimate avoiding a total of 335 person-trips per month by teleconferencing meetings (saving 21,000 vehicle miles traveled per month), 106 commuter-days per month from flex-work scheduling, and 1,950 commuter-days per month from telecommuting. To keep alive the dialogue on campus sustainability, 80 percent of responding department identified a Green Campus Communications Representative.

The following departments with the top four point totals were declared the winners of the first Virginia Tech Green Campus Challenge:

Facilities Services, with 600 employees, was one of the largest responding units. In an effort to lead by example, facilities issued to all employees an April 9, 2010, directive containing 29 specific required sustainability practices based on Energy and Water Policy 5505, the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment and Strategic Plan, and the Green Campus Challenge. Among its innovative green practices, facilities cites the sustainable transportation program (for which Virginia Tech was one of three universities in the nation to receive the gold award in the 2009 Race to Excellence competition); the LEED certification program for all new buildings and renovations under planning, design, and construction; new green practices by housekeeping; and significant energy and cost savings by better management of central air handlers and temperature set points.

Materials science and engineering encourages faculty and staff to shut down computers and lights at the end of the day, use double-sided copying and printing, avoid vehicle miles traveled for meetings and commuting. The department was able to quantify the impact of these policies by conducting an e-mail survey of faculty and staff and used the results to answer the challenge questions on practice implementation. Among its innovative practices are incorporating green engineering principles in its undergrad laboratories and teaching modules and in developing its new foundry (including solid state lighting, down-draft dust collection, and the hope of using recycled aluminum cans as a source material for castings).

Military affairs/corps of cadets has a Battalion duty officer who ensures all lights are turned off at night, has converted most formerly print materials to electronic media, and has added a Cadet Sustainability Coordinator to its Regimental Staff to coordinate all sustainability efforts of the corps. Among its innovative practices, the corps performs a “walk-through” combing cadet areas including dorms to collect trash and recyclables, and a team building trash scavenger hunt to collect trash all over campus with the winner based on the weight of trash collected.

University scholarships and financial aid has an End of Day Closing Procedure to ensure shut-down of computers and lights, and a Green Committee which issued a Green Directive e-mail encouraging sustainability practices, including recycling, carpooling to meetings, and telecommuting.

The following departments listed alphabetically placed fifth through 10th: College of Engineering dean’s office, College of Science dean’s office, Division of Student Affairs communication and marketing, recreational sports, Learning Technologies, and the School of Public and International Affairs.

The winners and all participating departments will be recognized at an event during Sustainability Week 2010. A representative from each winning department will be invited to the president’s suite at a fall football game.

A non-scoring part of the Green Campus Challenge included soliciting good ideas to enhance campus sustainability. Many responding departments stood out in their suggestions, including the Office of the President, dean’s offices in engineering and architecture and urban studies, statistics, and facilities services. The following are a sample of the ideas:

The Energy and Sustainability Committee says they wish to thank and congratulate all participating departments and especially the high scorers. Efforts to make Virginia Tech a Green and Sustainable Campus depend on the commitment and effort of all of our staff, faculty, and students. This first Green Campus Challenge indicates the level of interest and provides a strong foundation for our continuing work, according to the committee.

Written by John Randolph. Randolph is a professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies’ School of Public and International Affairs.