A Green Light for Sustainability
As the pen floated across the paper, it did more than simply arrange a signature; it marked a significant milestone in Radford University’s history, a moment in which the university community reaffirmed its longstanding focus on reaching carbon neutrality and promoting campus-wide sustainability.
By Chad Osborne
Pushing the pen that mid-November 2020 day was then-President Brian O. Hemphill, who applied his signature to the Carbon Commitment, a document that recognizes the need for colleges and universities to exercise leadership in addressing the increasing pace and detrimental impacts of climate change.
At the commitment’s core is the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2040 and integrate sustainability and climate action into the university curriculum and culture.
“Signing the Carbon Commitment energizes the university’s sustainability and climate action efforts, and it gives direction to our future,”
Sustainability Manager Josh Nease explained. “Achieving carbon neutrality is a long process that is full of important steps, and signing the commitment is the critical first step.”
Along with the Carbon Commitment came the newly created President’s Task Force on Sustainability, which charges the Radford family to work together toward developing a new sustainability and climate action plan.
The task force comprises 13 appointed faculty, staff and students from Finance, Facilities, Admissions, Sustainability, Student Affairs, Academic Affairs and University Services.
Their job is to enhance cross-campus collaboration and develop partnerships and strategies for advancing sustainability and achieving net carbon neutrality.
“The task force has demonstrated an incredible level of commitment to the university and to this process,” Nease said. “The result is their development of a comprehensive, practical plan with bold but attainable goals, that, if adopted and implemented, will be impactful and transformational.”
As the climate crisis continues to impact current and future generations of Highlanders, one goal of the task force is to ensure the integration of “sustainability across the curriculum to develop solutions and leadership for our environmental challenges,” said Stockton Maxwell, Ph.D., task force member and associate professor of geospatial science. “This might include building new majors and minors to meet the growing demands of the environmental job market.”
Faculty have taken an increased role in educating students about environmental and sustainability issues by revising existing, or creating new, curricula and developing research and project-based learning initiatives that use campus and community partnerships to teach sustainability. About 86% of Radford’s academic departments offer at least one sustainability course, and Nease, along with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, continues to push forward the effort by offering annual workshops that provide faculty with ideas to better incorporate sustainability into their curricula.
Engaging students has been part of the mission since the university signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2009.
For example, students have taken leadership responsibilities in the Radford chapter of the Food Recovery Network, delivering meals to a food bank near campus to help fight food insecurity in the City of Radford and the surrounding region.
Students participating in the Food Recovery Network program typically are part of the Sustainability Leadership Team – Internship Program, which gives them hands-on sustainability-related work experience throughout the academic year on various green campus initiatives, such as annual Earth Week events and the popular Bags to Benches program, which recycles plastic bags into benches to place in green spaces on campus.
For its efforts, Radford is annually recognized in The Princeton Review’s Green Colleges guide, and the university received a STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System) silver rating in May 2019 from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
These are just a few of the accolades bestowed upon Radford University for its commitment to sustainability initiatives, a clear sign of greener days ahead.