By summer, the University of Mary Washington plans to have its own Sustainability Coordinator. The announcement of the new full-time position by UMW President Troy Paino in last week’s Board of Visitors meeting comes just in time for Earth Day and on the heels of Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order to reduce Virginia’s reliance on single-use plastics.
“UMW has a long tradition of prioritizing sustainability, but it’s time we take that commitment to another level,” Paino said. “We need a dedicated position to develop and implement an ambitious plan that will make UMW a national leader among green campuses.”
The effort has already begun. A “Virginia Green” dining program, paired with academic programs, like the conservation biology, and Earth and environmental science majors, will serve as a launching pad for the sustainability coordinator. So will the recent Climate of Change discussion series, along with recycling, bike-sharing and other existing eco-specific initiatives.
UMW traded plastic straws for paper ones more than two years ago, said Campus Dining Marketing Coordinator Rose Benedict, and the University is listed among the nation’s most environmentally conscious schools in the 2021 edition of The Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges. “We strongly recommend the University of Mary Washington to students who want to study and live at a green college,” said Editor-in-Chief Rob Franek.
The new sustainability coordinator position will be a “game-changer,” tying together Earth-friendly campaigns across campus – academic programs, community service opportunities, student activities, building efficiencies, recycling and waste-reduction initiatives. The list goes on and on, said Landscape and Grounds Manager Holly Chichester, who will chair the committee charged with choosing the new hire.
The person who fills the role will work closely with the President’s Council on Sustainability (PCS), formed in 2009, and with UMW’s environmentally conscious students, Paino said. The coordinator will implement programs and form partnerships that support the university’s strategic plan and its vision of fostering an environmentally sound culture, community engagement and social responsibility.
“That individual will then branch out to focus on forward-looking campus approaches to energy, economics, community well-being, and even technological innovation,” Chichester said. He or she will be a “driving force to promote a more eco-efficient campus and initiate sustainable life routines students will maintain after their time at UMW.”
A part-time student position has laid the groundwork for “UMW Sustainability” – a campus-wide promotion of environmentally sound practices meant to shape not only Mary Washington, but also the surrounding community and, ultimately, the world.
News of the pending position follows Gov. Northam’s executive order last month to curb the state’s use of plastics, which are not biodegradable, not easily recyclable, and add to land and water pollution. Executive branch state agencies, including colleges and universities, are asked to halt by the end of July 2021 the buying and distributing of single-use plastics such as bags, cutlery, water bottles, food containers and straws, and to develop plans to phase out all such non-medical plastics by 2025.
“We’ll certainly work closely with UMW to ensure we meet required standards and protocols,” said David Schneider, general manager of University Dining, the first program of its type to receive “Virginia Green” designation.
Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Melanie Szulczewski said she has been impressed by the myriad and creative sustainability initiatives undertaken by faculty, staff and students with minimal institutional resources. “I speak for the entire sustainability council when I say how thrilled we will be to welcome this new UMW employee to campus,” said Szulczewski, who also is career advisor for the environmental sustainability minor.
So will Paino.
“I’m excited that this individual will work closely with our community-minded UMW students who are particularly passionate about protecting our planet for future generations.”