Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Faculty, staff and students from across Virginia Commonwealth University gathered in the University Student Commons Theater on the morning of April 25 for a meeting of the minds.
The topic? Sustainability.
Organized by Cliff Fox, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Environmental Studies, and Monty Kier, affiliate professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, the inaugural VCU Sustainability Conference serves as a forum for university members to share how they are integrating sustainability into all aspects of the university.
“It really is an effort to unify all of the folks on campus,” said Fox. “One of the real problems that you have is that when you start to talk about sustainability, everyone works within their own discipline and they have a hard time communicating with each other. This is a big part of what we’re trying to do by getting communication flowing.”
Bill Godfrey, affiliate faculty in the Center for Environmental Studies and the Center for Corporate Education, began the conference by defining sustainability and why it matters to VCU.
"When it comes to climate change, we have 40 years to turn things around,” said Godfrey. “The linchpin to putting all this together is education."
He illustrated how each of the 25 sustainability issues critical to environmental conservation can be addressed by different schools throughout the university. For instance, through VCU’s Life Sciences, students can learn about water, waste, oceans, mountains, land, forests, climate, agriculture and biodiversity, while the College of Humanities and Sciences can address consumption, culture, decision making, human settlements, transportation and public awareness. Similarly, the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and Pharmacy can play an important part in sustainable health issues.
Representing the student population, Melissa Lesh and Arthur Key introduced the conference to Green Unity 4 VCU and its mission to positively change the campus and community through service and education.
Lesh described several of the club’s initiatives, including the campus-wide campaign to “Take a Stand, Get Your Butt Off the Ground.” The behavior change campaign focused on encouraging students to properly dispose of cigarette butts.
“Cigarettes are the number one thing littered in the country,” said Lesh. “And unlike popular belief, they are not biodegradable. The chemicals filtered from cigarettes can leach into waterways such as the James River.”
Illustrating her point with a photo of a one-ton dinosaur crafted from garbage and filling the majority of the lobby depicted in the picture, Jordan Starbuck, sustainability coordinator with the Office of Sustainability, spoke at the conference about VCU’s roughly 3,000 tons of solid waste thrown away each year and what she and her department are doing to try to address it.
In all, 13 speakers over the course of four hours illustrated how sustainability is part of VCU’s character. Fox and Kier are eagerly anticipating making this conference into a biannual event, with the second forum scheduled for some time during the fall semester.
“We want to let people know that we’re here doing things,” said Fox. “So if they’re interested they can come join us.”
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