Tuesday, April 12, students representing sustainability projects at the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia came together to present the Climate Action Partnership webinar highlighting ways to stay green on a college campus. Hosts for the event included Madeline Bertagnolli ’22 and Olivia Wachob ’23 representing the College and Morgan Foster ’22 and Nora Raleigh ’24 representing UVA. The event featured two student speakers: Neel Simpson ’22 from the College and Julianne Feutcher ’22 from UVA.
The Climate Action Partnership was established between the two schools to support each other’s initiatives of making campus carbon emissions net zero by the year 2030.
“It’s been really great to see how similar our goals and actions from both universities are to kind of pull it together as opposed to almost like competing against each other,” Wachob said. “So it seems very collaborative, which is nice.”
The partnership focuses on three areas: sharing information and resources on climate action planning and implementation processes, collaborating on outreach and engagement opportunities within the universities and surrounding communities and supporting other institutions of higher education and their communities in Virginia with climate action.
“This presentation is the culmination of one of the byproducts of this partnership, wherein which student representatives will be talking about their involvement in their respective universities, partnerships for sustainability and then how we all come together to better further these initiatives that are set through this partnership,” Foster said.
Wachob and Bertagnolli introduced the Climate Action Roadmap at the College. The initiative’s central focus is learning and empowerment, with three different areas included to support that goal. Sustainability working groups on campus drafted the plan last year. These areas of focus are a carbon neutral campus by 2030, education and research, and community action in the College community.
The Climate Action Roadmap seeks to make climate sustainability an integral part of life at the College. In March 2022, the Environmental Science & Policy program was officially renamed to the Environment & Sustainability Program. There are also plans for student orientation sustainability programs, setting a price for carbon offsets for department vehicles and reducing municipal waste to landfills by 65%, among many plans.
Foster and Raleigh of the UVA Office of Sustainability laid out their university’s goals for 2030 as well. These consist of ten goals persisting to implementation at all levels of the university, engaging the community, becoming carbon free by 2030 and fossil fuel free by 2050, as well as promoting sustainability in their curriculum.
Following the rundown of each institution’s sustainability goals, Simpson gave a talk on how college students may work towards climate action in their everyday lives. Throughout his time at the College, Simpson has promoted sustainable living among the student body.
“This is really important because as young people, this future is our own and it’s important to be able to live and practice what we preach and make sure that as we go forward with climate mitigation and plans that we are actively seeking to improve our own practices in our everyday lives,” Simpson said.
Simpson went over various ways students can reduce and reuse their everyday products instead of throwing them away in landfills.
“A lot of the time, the most sustainable option is just not buying something new,” Simpson said.
Simpson also explained ways to maximize recycling on campus. Recycling bins accepting a mix of plastic, paper, metal and glass are typically found outside academic buildings and residence halls. More particular items like plastic bags, batteries and lightbulbs may be recycled using special facilities found at Swem Library or the Sadler Center, for example. However, contamination is important to take into consideration when recycling. A lot of recycled materials, like greasy pizza boxes, will just be thrown away to go to landfills, which should be avoided.
“It doesn’t only make that item unrecyclable, it can end up making an entire batch unable to process. While we want to emphasize recycling, I definitely want to emphasize that refusing, reducing and reusing are a lot more effective than recycling because of issues like this,” Simpson said.
Simpson also suggested composting as a way to reduce food waste. He explained that students can find a campus composting map and easily make a compost bin themselves if they live off campus like he did.
“As we continue to advocate for our communities to do better, our community on campus or our hometown or Charlottesville, Williamsburg, wherever you are, these differences do really add up and advocating for them is going to be a really important part to moving towards a more sustainable future,” Simpson said.
The event’s second speaker was Julianne Feutcher from UVA’s Office for Sustainability. Feutcher also leads the Sustainability Advocates Program and is sustainability chair for her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha. She talked about how she engages various groups in her community to promote sustainability and implement climate action.
“I want to keep the momentum going pursuing UVA’s climate goals and along with that I really want to use my climate goals of growing the sustainability level and making sustainability a shared value to shape our actions going forward,” Feutcher said.
After the panel, Grier Whitely ’25 shared her takeaways from the webinar and her thoughts for the future of sustainability at the College.
“Even if it’s not a problem, there’s always room for improvement in a lot of areas. I think making students in general more aware of the ways to recycle and how to dispose of things properly is something we can work towards,” Whitely said.