Lea Taylor, UVA Office for Sustainability Student Employee

Across Grounds, faculty and staff have committed to making UVA more sustainable. Several offices and departments have sought to incorporate sustainability into the work setting through the Green Workplace Program. The program outlines individual actions to conserve resources, save money, and advance sustainability in offices and departments around Grounds. 

The Office for Sustainability supports Green Workplaces by offering a set of recommended green actions, shepherding individuals through implementation of those actions, and incentivizing sustainability progress, even after certification. In becoming Green Workplace certified, offices, departments, and schools on Grounds will choose 20 of 30 specified actions to implement that seek to build a foundation for further deep improvements that the Sustainability Office also supports. The actions in the Green Workplace Program are broken down into five categories: Awareness & Education, Reminder Signage, Energy & Water, Waste Reduction, and Ongoing Communication. It is designed to cater to each individual workplace, working as a guide to allow for small actions that can be taken to make the workplace more sustainable.

Taking on the Green Workplace Program is a way that individual departments can work within the scope of the University-wide Sustainability Plan. With a strong commitment to sustainability in their programs and in the workplace, the International Studies Office (ISO) has gone above and beyond to incorporate sustainability initiatives into each aspect of its work. And while a great deal of the ISO’s efforts focused on enhancing the sustainability of education abroad programs, one of the major undertakings was completing the Green Workplace Program.

Hayley Spear, an Education Abroad Advisor, offered up some reflections on how the Green Workplace Program was implemented in the office and the overarching impacts. Hayley helped take the lead on Green Workplace certification at the ISO, and can attest to the flexibility of the program to suit each workplace. At its core, the Green Workplace Program focuses on logistical, practical changes rather than big-picture overhauls. 

The ISO team was able to look through the list of 30 recommended actions and picked what was most applicable to the workspace. “The flexibility of the program makes it realistic for all offices,” Hayley said. “There was support from our director, Dudley Doane, to do more than just meet the minimum requirements of the program. It was fun to get the whole team on board, and people were eager to participate and contribute to our success in completing the program.” Ultimately, the certification touched everyone in the workplace. One of the listed actions taken by ISO was a Green Workplace survey, wherein employees can help identify sustainability opportunities. The Awareness & Education aspect of the Green Workplace Program aims to involve the entire workplace, as well as draw from diverse interests and work functions. Overall, the program had a great positive effect of encouraging mindfulness and the idea that “every little bit counts.” 

Among the twenty actions taken to become Green Workplace certified, one was to complete an appliance census for the Energy & Water action category. Given the new remote workplace circumstances, ISO employees filled out a survey as an alternative to the traditional walk-through requirement to identify the number and types of appliances in individual offices and cubicles. Another component to the survey was an option for staff to select that they would like a desk-side recycling receptacle. To continue engagement and further promote sustainable efforts, several employees have volunteered for roles such as forwarding sustainability-related emails and hanging posters from the Sustainability Office around the office. Other actions focused on office waste reduction, such as designating an area for collection of unwanted office supplies for reuse.

One yellow and one blue bin labeled for UVA's ROSE program and E-waste respectively
One of the actions includes labelling an area for collecting unwanted office supplies and electronic “e-waste."

ISO’s commitment to ‘greening’ the workplace came from the recognition that despite the global scope of their work, it also relies on sustainable improvements closer to home, in the office workplace on Grounds. But their tremendous sustainability efforts didn’t stop there. ISO launched their very own Sustainability Plan in February, intending to focus more efforts on the education abroad programs that thousands of students embark on annually. Scott Norris, International Studies Office Business Manager, headed a small committee established to set goals for the plan- one of which sought to offset hundreds of flights that students take each year. “In January, our Director, Dudley Doane, had seen articles over the past several months highlighting sustainability in education abroad at other institutions, and that combined with the announcement of UVA’s new, very aggressive sustainability goals, he felt it was timely for the ISO to do our part,” Scott shared.

Two males sitting rowing a boat down a river
There are several study abroad programs focusing on sustainability, including UVA in Sweden: Global Sustainability Consulting.

The committee set to work on developing a Sustainability Plan that included all of ISO, not just the Education Abroad Office. “We wanted to be well-informed about what others are doing – other Virginia schools, national peer institutions, national and international associations and organizations – to address sustainability and education abroad, but we also looked into existing UVA programs like the Green Workplace Program.” Over the course of a few weeks, the committee divided tasks and came together to categorize the goals they came up with into one-month, three-month, and twelve-month goals. Eventually, the final plan was presented to Dudley Doane and the rest of the ISO staff. “That was very exciting, as our staff overall is very supportive of sustainability and has really been thrilled to have been given this opportunity to work on making every part of what we do more sustainable,” Scott said.

The Sustainability Plan includes initiatives such as offsetting carbon emissions for work-related travel, not to mention the flights for education abroad programs administered and managed directly by the ISO. The Plan also commits to 100% carbon-neutral and zero-waste events.

Navy blue graphic with small icons for people, transportation, and money, showing the carbon footprint of UVA study abroad activities
The committee approximated the carbon footprint of education abroad programs, as well as the cost to offset air travel.

ISO’s sustainability efforts exemplify the close-to-home actions that workplaces on Grounds can take to become Green Workplace Certified. ISO’s Sustainability Plan also demonstrates the potential for each workplace to incorporate sustainability into their programs and operations. 

“I think the most exciting thing about this whole process was discovering how much grassroots support there is for sustainability across our office, and I expect most areas of the University will find the same to be true,” Scott shared. “People are passionate about sustainability, and before we had a sustainability plan there was just a perception that sustainability was not part of what our office did. People took sustainability seriously outside of the office, but at the office it felt like business as usual to them, and that was actually frustrating to them. But creating a plan was a galvanizing experience, and I’ve seen many people arising, feeling newly empowered to lead efforts to create zero waste events or to work on our Green Workplace certification.”

Find out more about the Green Workplace Program, including how to get your own workplace on Grounds involved, or email greenworkplace@virginia.edu. To learn more about ISO’s Sustainability initiatives, visit UVA's Education Abroad website.