2 Jun 2022
Two Virginia Tech sustainability initiatives — the Plastic Pollution and Solid Waste Reduction Plan and the Office of Sustainability student internship program — were recently honored with Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards.
Hosted annually by the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Conservation and Recreation, the awards highlight organizations in the Commonwealth of Virginia that have made significant contributions and innovations across four categories: sustainability program, environmental project, greening of government, and implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan.
“This achievement is an exciting example of our collective university and community engagement in the Virginia Tech Climate Action Commitment,” said Chris Kiwus, interim senior vice president and chief business officer. “The efforts of our faculty, staff, students, and surrounding community are fundamental to achieving our university’s sustainable future.”
The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards commended Virginia Tech’s recently completed and in-progress sustainability activities — including the discontinuing of polystyrene containers in dining facilities, investments into the student-led Green RFP Program, the diversion of over than 170,000 plastic straws by converting to compostable alternatives, and more.
The awards also recognized the university’s future commitments to conducting an extensive waste and building audit on the Blacksburg campus, reducing single-use plastics, and an overall reduction of solid waste from landfills — supporting the university’s Climate Action Commitment goal of becoming a zero waste campus by 2030.
More than two dozen university stakeholders participated in the working group to develop the Plastic Pollution and Solid Waste Reduction Plan.
“This working group came together to brainstorm, plan, and recommend for implementation a number of options for reducing plastics and solid waste from our campuses. The group developed a solid plan, starting with pilot programs in Dining Services and athletics concessions, and I’m proud that the governor recognized the efforts and hard work that happened over the last year,” said Mary Helmick, director of procurement and chair of the working group.  
The Office of Sustainability’s student internship program provides students an opportunity to work collaboratively on projects in the areas of energy, water, waste, and food sustainability. The 2021 cohort of interns directly collected and donated 339 pounds of food to community charities and developed an approved proposal to install three electric vehicle charging stations on the Blacksburg campus. Interns also partnered with the student organization Environmental Coalition to plant 6,000 trees — part of the university’s larger restoration project for Stroubles Creek and its riparian buffer that helps keep the watershed clean. 
The professional competencies developed by program participants are an important factor in the high placement rate of interns in sustainability positions after graduation.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see our current interns building confidence in their leadership, communication, project management, and teamwork skills as they engage with Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities staff mentors and other stakeholders around campus,” said Nathan King, sustainability program manager. “The hours spent researching, planning, and implementing various sustainability projects or outreach events provide real world experience for our interns to learn and grow these professional skills while leaving a sustainable legacy on campus.”
Representatives from Virginia Tech received the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award at the Virginia Military Institute in Spring 2022.
A full list of this year’s Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award recipients is available here.
Meghan Marsh
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