Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and strong student engagement among achievements highlighted in 2020-21 Sustainability Annual Report
The climate action achievements highlighted in Virginia Tech’s 2020-21 Sustainability Annual Report represent tangible progress toward the university’s efforts in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, reducing energy usage, and engaging students in hands-on learning and volunteer opportunities.
Each year, the Office of Sustainability within the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities releases a Sustainability Annual Report that highlights the university’s progress in meeting the goals outlined in the Climate Action Commitment.
Report focal points include the latest greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) data, energy reduction efforts, recycling and waste reduction, energy-efficient design, and alternative transportation. The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors Buildings and Grounds Committee received and approved the 2020-21 Sustainability Annual Report on Nov. 8.
Sustainability achievements during the 2020-21 academic year highlighted in the report follow below.
National sustainability recognition
Virginia Tech continues to be recognized on a national scale for its commitment to sustainability.
The university earned its highest Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) rating in 2020, earning gold status and a 72.78 point rating out of 100, for its sustainability efforts across academics, operations, planning, and administration, and campus engagement. STARS is recognized globally as the premier management tool for colleges and universities to measure sustainability performance. Additionally, in 2020, Virginia Tech received the following distinctions:
- Top 50 Green Colleges, The Princeton Review (#34 in 2020 - U.S., Canada, and Europe);
- Times Higher Education Impact Rating (top 25 globally);
- Tree Campus USA, Arbor Day Foundation (13th consecutive year);
- Cool Schools for 2020, Sierra Club;
- Best Workplaces for Commuters (gold); and
- Bicycle Friendly University (silver).
Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on the Blacksburg campus
The first 2020 Climate Action Commitment goal — and what could be considered the most sweeping tenet among the 15 goals — is to achieve a carbon neutral Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus by 2030. The university also aims to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by the same year.
Carbon neutrality is defined as net-zero emissions of CO2, CH4, and N2O by Virginia Tech operations on the Blacksburg campus. Fiscal year 2021 showed a 6.06 percent decrease in total emissions compared to fiscal year 2020.
Comprehensive information on Virginia Tech’s greenhouse gas emissions can be found in the Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Assessment Report.
Virginia Tech continues to actively pursue solar development agreements on campus. For example, the Sterrett Facilities Complex is preparing an RFP for a 340 kW Virginia Tech owned rooftop system to be completed by 2022. There are also ongoing negotiations with prospective third-party solar developers for 2 MW on campus buildings/grounds under a power purchase agreement in the near future.
Energy reduction efforts and energy-efficient design
As part of a 10-year energy management plan, a campuswide lighting audit to develop a strategy for LED lamps and controls is currently underway. Additionally, the energy management plan has called for a retro-commissioning program for existing buildings. Virginia Tech Electric Service is executing ongoing conversion of aging outdoor lighting systems to LED. Additionally, assessments have been conducted of Virginia Tech’s building automation systems to enhance building operations and energy efficiency.
Ongoing retro-commissioning efforts have saved an estimated $20,000 in operational costs per year.
At the completion of the academic year 2020-21, Virginia Tech had 21 LEED certified buildings in total. In early winter 2021, O'Shaughnessy Hall earned LEED certification. In spring 2021, three historic buildings surrounding the Drillfield — Davidson Hall, Sandy Hall, and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Building — were awarded LEED certification.
Green RFP Program: Student engagement in climate action remains steady
The Green Request for Proposals Program (Green RFP) provides university funds to student-generated sustainability projects. Since 2010, 110 student proposals have been approved and awarded more than $1.5 million.
Twenty-seven Green RFP projects were funded in 2020-21 with implementation currently underway. The projects include the installation of electric vehicle charging stations, LED lighting upgrades in McBryde and Lane Halls, Stroubles Creek riparian restoration projects, and more.
Recycling, waste reduction, and composting
Virginia Tech achieved a 38.1 percent recycling rate for the calendar year 2020. In 2020, recycling, waste reduction, and composting were expanded through initiatives such as:
- Executive Order 77: Working group inventoried all single-use plastics on campus and developed plan for implementing 25 percent reduction in single-use plastics annually;
- Comprehensive Waste Management Plan: Chronicles how Virginia Tech will manage its waste streams most efficiently, safely, and sustainably;
- Y-Toss: During student move-out, gently used items are collected and resold during move-in the following fall;
- Dining Services composting program; and
- Reusable To-Go (R2G) Program: Since 2014, more than 355,000 meals have been served in R2G containers instead of other single-use options.
Alternative transportation adoption advances
The Alternative Transportation Department continues to see strong engagement in its alternative transportation programs, including use of Blacksburg Transit, Hokie Bike Hub, and commuter parking pass purchases. Virginia Tech’s biennial Commuter Survey was conducted during 2020 and the results provide insights into Blacksburg campus affiliates’ travel behaviors.
Construction on the new Blacksburg Transit Multi-Modal Transit Facility is underway in collaboration with the Town of Blacksburg. The capital construction project will improve the long-term transit experience on the Virginia Tech Blacksburg campus by delivering a central transportation hub, alternative transportation facilities, and ADA-compliant pedestrian pathways throughout the Perry Street vicinity, embedded within the North Academic District.
“We know there isn’t just one silver bullet when it comes to reducing our environmental impact. It is only through the tireless efforts of sustainability champions across the university — faculty, staff, students, visitors, and alumni — that we can implement our ambitious Climate Action Commitment goals in energy management, learning and research, and so much more over the long term,” said Mary-Ann Ibeziako, assistant vice president of infrastructure and chief sustainability officer.
- 2020-21 Sustainability Annual Report
- Sustainability at Virginia Tech
- Sustainability Internship Program
- Student Sustainability Forum
- Green RFP Program
- Green Graduates of Virginia Tech
For more information on campus sustainability initiatives or for any questions, please contact the Office of Sustainability at firstname.lastname@example.org.