Local Environmental Initiatives Up and Down the Valley: It’s No Quick Fix

May 1, 2019

A few months ago, the City of Charlottesville, the County of Albemarle, and the University of Virginia sent a joint press release asking for community input to help them draft their environmental plans, under their umbrella concept called “Climate Action Together.”

WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini took the occasion to review a few of the ongoing long-term environmental initiatives in the Valley.

Climate Action Together at the Charlottesville Farmer's Market
Credit Marguerite Gallorini

If you were at the Charlottesville Farmer’s Market on April 20th, you might have seen the tabling of the Climate Action Together folks. I met with Susan Elliott, the City of Charlottesville’s Climate Protection Program Coordinator, giving me the elevator pitch for the project.

SUSAN ELLIOTT: Climate Action Together is a group effort on community engagement between the City of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the University of Virginia. All three organizations are undertaking efforts right now to set new climate reduction goals and also to look at what our plans are. So with that, we started the Climate Action Together: so there is one central website for people to get information as to what we're doing; we can put all of our different dates for events there…

And the staff from all three entities regularly meet and learn from one another, to inform their respective environmental action plans. A similar attempt was made in 2011, says Albemarle County’s Climate Program Coordinator Narissa Turner, but what resulted then was more a set of guidelines than a practical action plan.

NARISSA TURNER: What we call LCAPP – the Local Climate Action Planning Process report – was published and that was also a joint County-City-University effort. I like to jokingly call it Climate Action Plan “Light:” it's like the prototype because it outlined very similar groups like we have, it outlines some strategies, next steps that need to be taken by each entity. The problem was: because it was created as one document for everyone, for jurisdictional reasons it couldn't become a formal plan for everyone. It was more like a guidebook, which we still pull from and we reference a lot, it kind of informed the process we're in now.

From left to right: CAAV's Rosie Lynch, Harrisonburg's Mayor Deanna Reed, and CAAV Founder Cathy Strickler celebrate CAAV's 2018 Earth Day Celebration in Purcell Park
Credit CAAV

So each entity will have their own environmental action plans – but their community outreach is streamlined for more clarity and efficiency. On the Climate Action Together website, you will be able to learn about each entity’s timelines for their next projects, and about their past and current projects: like the University of Virginia’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goal.

ANDREA TRIMBLE: We set our first greenhouse goal several years ago for a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 2009 levels by 2025.

That’s Andrea Trimble, the Director of UVA's Office for Sustainability.

TRIMBLE: We've reduced our emissions by 19% as of 2017 so we think we will meet the goal ahead of schedule, so what we're doing now is working on what is our next goal.

The City of Charlottesville is also having good results: after setting a goal of a 10% reduction of the city’s greenhouse gas by 2016, they actually reduced it by 23%.

These results are made possible thanks to multiple initiatives and partnerships with local groups. For instance since 2015, the City of Charlottesville has been working with Black Bear Composting, a local industrial composting company, to pick up organic waste. The company also offers its services in Staunton, Waynesboro; and, since 2016, Harrisonburg, thanks to the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley – CAAV for short. Joni Grady, former Chair of the organization who now works with its Education and Events Committee, explains how it works. 

At Climate Action Together's Farmer's Market tabling in Charlottesville.
Credit Marguerite Gallorini

JONI GRADY: People can bring their compostable waste, trash, garbage, whatever is compostable, take it to the Farmer's Market, and they have a place to drop it off.

ROSIE LYNCH: Since 2016, when the project started, we've gathered 31 tons of compostable waste.

And that’s Rosie Lynch, from CAAV’s steering committee.

LYNCH: It is transported to Black Bear Composting, in Crimora, and processed there. But just in 2018 alone, it resulted in the equivalent of 5.3 metric tons of carbon dioxide avoidance.

CAAV’s actions take the form of community-based projects like this one; but also of public forums; community outreach events; or artistic initiatives. They often work in partnership with other local entities as well, such as the Shenandoah Club, the local branch of the Sierra Club, or Renew Rocktown, among others.

One of their recent forums was inspired by Project Drawdown, a comprehensive plan proposed to reverse global warming, and listing the most promising existing solutions for climate change. What they learned is that, one of the biggest greenhouse gas producers are air conditioning systems.

GRADY: The chemicals that go into your air conditioner are huge producers of greenhouse gases. There are international rules dealing with what kind of refrigerant you can use. The one we're using now helped with the Ozone hole, but it turned out to be a greenhouse gas.

Susan Elliott, from the City of Charlottesville, confirms that 65% of the City's greenhouse gas emissions come from residential areas in the form of heating, cooling, and lighting.

Narissa Turner, the County of Albemarle's Climate Program Coordinator
Credit Marguerite Gallorini

FARMER’S MARKET PASSER-BY: Oh gosh. I’m going to say waste. [Flips the question card over] Residential, weird!

Changing technology will help with that issue and others – but it is a variable that needs to be accounted for when drafting their long-term environmental plan.

ELLIOTT: So there's going to be a balance between how do we set a plan that really moves us forward, but also is adaptable and flexible enough to be able to re-evaluate and take in these changes as we go.

Now, the City of Charlottesville is setting a new greenhouse gas reduction target. They will release a first draft of their plan on May 6 at City Council, after which a public comment period will be open.

Further South, another regional environmental program comes from a somewhat unusual place: a not–for–profit health care organization. Last month [April 2019], the Governor’s Office announced the ten winners of the Environmental Excellence Award – and Carilion Clinic, based in Roanoke, was a winner thanks to its Efficiency and Sustainability Program.

Andrea Trimible, UVA's Office for Sustainability Director
Credit Eze Amos

SARA WOHLFORD: Mostly, the work started here in Roanoke and now we are trying to grow out into some of our community hospitals.

That’s Sara Wohlford, the Efficiency and Sustainability Manager at Carilion Clinic. One of their big initiatives, she says, focuses on recycling:

WOHLFORD: Out of this building here at Roanoke Memorial, we want to recycle 20% of all of the waste that we generate – and health care generates a lot of waste. We've been working hard over the last couple of years to increase our capability to do that. We've not quite reached that 20% goal yet, we're at about 16% right now, but that means we're recycling right around 800,000 to 900,000 pounds of material out of this building alone every year, so it's a significant amount even though it's a small percentage.

They also have a donation program where international aid organizations can come and collect their unused surplus medical supplies.

Sara Wohlford, Efficiency and Sustainability Manager at Roanoke's Carilion Clinic
Credit Carilion Clinic

WOHLFORD: In the last couple of years, that program has diverted about 80,000 pounds of waste. We really love that one.

It doesn’t even really cost anything: rather, these energy-saving or waste-avoidance projects just save money.

WOHLFORD: What we implement are process changes that really end up saving us money as opposed to costing us money. When you reduce waste and when you reduce energy use, then you save money, which is wonderful.

For WMRA News, I’m Marguerite Gallorini.

Susan Elliott, City of Charlottesville's Climate Protection Program Coordinator
Credit Joe Rice