Last Thursday evening, Green Grounds and UVa Sustainability hosted their third annual SustainaPitch Night in honor of Earth Week. Students gathered in the Rotunda Multipurpose Room to present their sustainability-focused project ideas to a crowd of peers and professors. This year’s theme was “Charlottesville, Planet, Progress”: topics that were all clearly embedded in each of the pitches presented.
Contestants could either participate in the large category (to win up to $1,500) or the small category (to win up to $500). Geared up and ready to go, the three contestants competing in the small category and five in the large category were all hoping to convince the audience to vote for their ideas — pitches they had developed to promote sustainable practices in the area. This audience participation was key: if the audience voted in favor of a participant’s idea, that individual would receive the prize money for his or her respective category.
As presenters and their group members filed in and took their seats, the room felt tense but energetic. Each group knew the money that they could win would make a big difference in a cause they were passionate about. The stakes were high. As the presenters flipped through their PowerPoints one last time I ate the free Mellow Mushroom pizza that was provided and waited for the event to begin.
Presenter Sabrina Sampson explained that, “It’s a very loving place because we’re all involved in the sustainability. We all support sustainability. It’s hard to pick one that is most deserving.”
This love for sustainability was evident and did not evade the notice of another presenter.
“I love to see the passion of the UVa students,” sustainability advocate Hsing Chu Lin told the crowd. “It’s really cool that so many people came out that it’s overflowing and we have to sit on the ground and double up to chairs.”
Who were the contenders? For the Small Category:
Connor Houlbrooke- Houlbrooke has been working to implement a program called “Right Cycle.” He explained that Right Cycle, “is basically a recycling method that allows us to repurpose Nitrile gloves, which are used in labs and research facilities.” The gloves could then be repurposed into new plastic products through injection molding. According to Houlbrooke, 22 percent of lab waste, which makes up 29 percent of university waste, comes from these gloves. He stated that this program is so easy to implement that it could start tomorrow.
Sydney Applegate- Speaking on behalf of the Engineering Student Council Committee on Sustainability and Infrastructure, Applegate proposed “Adopt an Oasis.” Her vision is to incorporate plants and greenery inside of the bleak engineering buildings. She explained that many E-School classrooms “do not have natural lighting. There’s a lot of room for improvement.” She believes that adding plants will improve air quality and student productivity. Applegate plans to support this system through involving student and professor volunteers.
Sabrina Sampson (and project partner Jessica) – Sampson presented as part of a CIO that works in the community of West Haven to bring families tools to create their own gardens. Currently, the program is struggling to garner the funds necessary to educate the families and provide them with gardening tools. They stated that “our goal is to bridge these historical, social, and cultural barriers between the UVa and West Haven communities.”
Who were the contenders? For the Large Category:
Gabby Levet and Emma Feinman- As members of the Charlottesville City Market Research Team, Levet and Feinman explained that they wanted to create “a lasting legacy of conscious, community-based research to foster a more diverse, accessible, and sustainable farmers market.” This includes implementing research to gauge customer behaviors and preferences at the market so as to hopefully inform market policies and programs, including the implementation of zero Styrofoam policies or adjustments to SNAP incentive programs. Levet and Feinman noted that, since many UVa students pay visits to and establish relationships at the farmers market, the funds for the project will also allow for the development of internships to help interested students strategize ways to make the market a little greener.
Emma Ehreth- As a member of Green Grounds and the committee Green Greeks, Ehreth hopes to bring composting and sustainability to fraternity and sorority houses. She explained that “the Greek community constitutes nearly 35% of UVA, and it’s a community that, until recently, did not have much connection with UVa sustainability.” Ehreth explained that composting is simple and extremely beneficial for the environment but that paying a company to pick up compost is expensive. She explained that the money from SustainaPitch Night would ease that financial burden. Ehreth also explained that the education and environmental awareness that comes with composting would have a large effect on the UVa community.
Morven Kitchen Garden- The two young women speaking on behalf of Morven Kitchen Garden explained that their idea was to help save local bee populations, seeing as bees are vital to our ecosystem but dying worldwide. They stated that, “Although [bees] are very small, they are insanely important… 80% of our food crops are pollinated by bees.” The women said that they wanted to create a bee education program for a few UVa students so as to help educate students to find ways to combat the issue. The Central Virginia Beekeeping Association has agreed to mentor UVa students for this cause.
Olivia Lewis- In response to seeing UVa students buy new clothes, wear it once or twice, and then never wearing it again, Lewis wants to expand the current UVa clothing swap. “I’d like there to be a location on Grounds, or even a small business, where students can come and have a membership, like a library, and rent out whatever they need,” she explained. Students could return the clothing at the end of the rental period and not pay anything. Lewis explained that this program would have numerous social, economic, and environmental benefits for UVa and the student body.
Rapid Needs Assessment Kit from Engineers Going Global- Six members of EGG presented kits that test the drinkability of water. The kits would be used to help people affected by natural disasters. They explained that with this plan, “you’re not spending billions of dollars importing water, and [you are] not wasting plastic and transportation.”
The winners were Connor Houlbrooke for the small category prize and Gabby Levet and Emma Feinman for the large category prize.
Levet and Feinman explained excitedly, “It feels good to be able to lay that foundation even further and hopefully continue data collection at the farmer’s market for future years.”
“It starts here but it ends when we bring it to the communities… the next step is taking it outside this room and bringing more people into this awareness,” they said.
In regards to how this event ties into the greater theme of Earth Week, Levet and Feinman explained, “I think it’s really great that the theme is Cville, Planet, and Progress. I think that focusing on the Charlottesville community and not just UVa is a crucial step in the right direction.”