Club treasurer, undergraduate researcher, University Council representative, and intern are just a few of the titles Natalie Koppier held as an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech.

And now she can add “member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society” to that list. As the oldest and most prestigious honor society in the country, Phi Beta Kappa only admits members who not only achieve high academic standards, but who demonstrate good character and broad cultural interest as well.

A 2021 graduate from the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Koppier fulfilled the requirements of the prestigious honor society with a singular focus – advancing the cause of environmental sustainability.

“I value efficiency so it really catches my eye when our society as a whole is so wasteful with trash and food,” said Koppier. “And our actions are having such a profound effect on our environment. I’ve always felt that climate change is the number one issue of this century. Everything in the next 100 years, and even beyond, will be affected by this, and we have the power to stop it or at least slow it down and learn how to adapt.”

Koppier joined multiple organizations and causes while at Virginia Tech to help move the campus community closer to this goal, ultimately serving on the commission to rewrite the Climate Action Commitment and developing a plan to integrate sustainable practices throughout campus residence halls.

“I was very proud to be a part of the climate action team,” said Koppier. “It felt like a real-world application and something I could hope to do in my career.”

Koppier transferred departments her junior year so she could study environmental economics. Despite that, she maintained her academic success and even began applying principles she learned in her new major toward her efforts on the commission. With her academic and practical knowledge of environmental economics, policy, and management, she hopes to champion environmental policy in her career.

“I’ve always been interested in the nexus between economics and environmentalism,” said Koppier. “We’re essentially taught that they’re at odds with each other, but I’d like to find a way to show people how environmentalism can create jobs and a more sustainable economy. That’s why I wanted to have the economics background.”

Serving on the greenhouse gas inventory subcommittee, Koppier helped recalibrate how the university would count its greenhouse gas emissions, integrating buildings that weren’t previously counted to make Virginia Tech a leader in greenhouse gas accountability.

The new commitment, which Koppier describes as “very progressive,” advocates for complete carbon neutrality through 100 percent renewable electricity and zero waste by 2030. It was unanimously approved by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors this spring.

Finishing up her work on the commission last fall, Koppier stepped into a new role her senior year to advance this cause – she became an intern for the Virginia Tech Office of Sustainability.

As an intern and leader of the energy team within the internship structure, Koppier assisted in developing a program that would help Virginia Tech get one step closer to achieving the goals she helped establish in the 2020 commitment. The program would encourage students to commit to more sustainable practices like correctly recycling used materials, using public transit, and having a vegetarian day once a week.

Koppier is continuing to refine the program with collaborators over the summer in hopes of launching a pilot in the fall. The program is designed to support a residence hall sustainability representative as well as encourage individual students to work toward sustainability certifications. The ultimate goal for the program is to educate and encourage students to actively work toward implementing sustainable living practices both on campus and off.

“The work Natalie did as a Virginia Tech student will far outlive her time on campus,” said Professor Mike Ellerbrock, who leads the applied economics undergraduate program. “It’s work like this that makes us proud to teach and educate college students.” 

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