Sabrina Sampson, Office for Sustainability Student Employee
In early March as concern surrounding the novel coronavirus grew, students faced increasing uncertainty about their plans for the future. Another person whose plans became upended was Dana Schroeder, the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator from the UVA Office for Sustainability. Dana had spent months in conversation with the City of Charlottesville and community environmental groups planning “Earth Week Together” to celebrate the 50th Earth Day on April 22. But with University classes and operations shifted online, the planning team had roughly a month to readjust.
When it became clear that the UVA and Charlottesville community wouldn’t be able to celebrate Earth Week Together in person, “We started thinking about how to preserve variety, still allow people to connect with each other, and be sensitive to the fact that this pandemic was going to affect different people in very different ways,” Dana said. “After pitching to eco-leaders across our community, we landed on a communications campaign that aligned around daily engagement themes and that would allow our fellow ‘Hoos and neighbors to submit their own ideas, thoughts, feelings, and actions.”
And thus the “Earth Day Every Day” campaign was born. “UVA Sustainability partnered with many Charlottesville & Albemarle organizations on the ‘Earth Day Every Day’ campaign which encouraged the community to participate in different types of engagement on different days of the week all throughout the month of April.” Community members shared ideas and resources through social media, following daily themes such as #TeachYourselfTuesday, #TakeActionThursday, and #FridaysForFuture.
In addition to daily opportunities to celebrate and share, a virtual Earth Week took place from April 20-April 25. “UVA Sustainability also helped promote more than 15 free, virtual events hosted by partners across the region, including both local environmental groups and Virginia higher ed partners like the College of William & Mary,” Dana explained. “These events ranged from guest lectures on municipal climate progress to virtual contemplative practice, social distance stargazing, Earth trivia, and more.”
Having to shift away from previous plans, Dana reflected, “Earth Week this year definitely felt bittersweet. It still wasn’t quite the same as being able to see people’s smiles, talk to each other in person, and enjoy UVA’s Grounds during this beautiful time of year.” But she also acknowledged that there were certain silver linings to the changes. “We definitely appreciated all the connections that we were able to make through social media and through virtual events during the month of April. I do think the Earth Day message may have spread further and wider than in past years when the focus was on gathering in person.”
Dana was thrilled by the level of engagement UVA Sustainability was able to achieve. “We were able to connect more with regional and global efforts; for example, other universities in Virginia ended up reaching out so that we could share each other’s virtual events. I participated in an ‘Eco-Art’ event that was hosted by someone at the College of William and Mary. Another great virtual event was the 24-hour global celebration hosted by the Earth Day Network. They have been a fantastic resource throughout all the planning and replanning, and they did a great job adjusting their scheduled events as well.”
The new online format also provided Dana the opportunity to become more familiar with social media platforms like Instagram. “One of my favorite realizations was how much love we got on posts that included pictures of people in our community,” she said. “Especially during this time when we are starving for human connections, it’s great to know how much people appreciated seeing the smiling faces of the Green Grannies, the children of people in our office, and student leaders at UVA.”
While the majority of the celebration centered around online engagements, “You could also spot the Earth Day Every Day message popping up around town, with the distribution of almost 200 yard signs to eco-friendly families across Charlottesville and Albemarle County.”
“It has been amazing to be able to coordinate so many partner groups and individuals who were interested in celebrating the Earth, even during this scary time. Whether young or older, here in Charlottesville or back at home, people have appreciated being able to connect with each other over a shared passion,” Dana remarked.
“With coronavirus being something we feel like we have little control over, it’s been awesome to see that so many people are doing what they can to take control of their environmental footprint and work together to be good stewards of our shared planet.”