Virginia Tech has been recognized as one of the top 16 sustainable schools in the country. It has received many awards, including a silver rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), Tree Campus USA and an A rating in transportation, among others.
But what do these awards really mean aside from an arsenal of silver plaques for our campus?
Often when we receive awards, we stop moving forward, because we feel we’ve earned a break. We feel that we’ve reached the goal.
As far as sustainability is concerned, we’ve come a long way as a campus and a community, especially considering we didn’t even have the Office of Energy & Sustainability seven years ago, but we’ve still got work to do.
For example, if you look deeper into our silver rating from the AASHE, some red flags appear.
The AASHE evaluates schools based on three categories: research, operations and planning/administration/engagement. While we did well in research (75 percent) and planning (73 percent), we received a mere 29 percent in operations.
I think it’s clear where we can improve.
Operations includes areas like buildings, dining, water and waste management and energy. While Dining Services often gets scrutinized for things like food waste and Styrofoam containers, Tech’s biggest areas in need of improvement actually appear to be in energy usage, buildings and climate.
Tech has acknowledged these deficiencies and created a long-term response plan called the Climate Action Commitment, which contains 14 resolutions to improve the school’s sustainability standards.
The question is, are we as students going to hold our university to a higher standard? How are we going to not just talk about being sustainable, but actually live by our words?
Surely, it’s more than just turning the light off when we leave the room and not taking 15-minute showers. It’s a lifestyle.
It’s being informed on where we stand and the specific areas in which we can grow. It’s caring about the degradation of the planet and the impact we have on it.
That doesn’t mean you have to become a hippie, stop eating meat, move out to Oregon and renounce everything about the “modern world.” But what it does mean is to stop and think when you make decisions instead of simply doing whatever’s easiest.
We’re not just making decisions for ourselves, but for our families, our neighbors and those who will come after us. So let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard: not a silver standard but a gold standard.