National Wildlife Federation’s Jim Lyon Motivates Virginia Students to Lead for the Environment this Earth Day 2013

Nearly 130 student leaders, faculty and staff gathered at the Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) this Earth Day, April 22, 2013, to hear from National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF’s) Jim Lyon about how the community can address climate change throughout the State of Virginia. “We were thrilled with the event turn out and with Jim’s talk,” said Rob Johnson, sustainability coordinator at NVCC, who wrote a guest post on the event for NWF’s Wildlife Promise blog.

Why higher education leadership for the environment in Virginia is important

“NWF started the Campus Ecology Program back in 1989, Mr. Lyon explained, because NWF knew higher education needs to lead the solutions to the conservation and wildlife challenges we are facing and to ensure that the graduates of today are prepared to lead the solutions of tomorrow.”

Colleges and universities, he explained, are places where people from all walks of life expect to see solutions demonstrated in practice, whether wind turbines, solar panels or electric recharge stations. Hands-on conservation and sustainability go hand-in-hand with the curriculum.

Campuses, clean economy and healthy wildlife connections in Virginia

“It is no longer business as usual for protecting wildlife, explained Lyon. We can’t simply set aside land and water, or regulate for clean air and clean water, although all of that is critical. We also have to look upstream to the impacts on wildlife and habitats- and there we can see that it is our building choices, our energy choices, our transportation choices and all of those need to be overhauled for a clean, safe, 21st Century.”

Reducing carbon pollution to zero within the lifetimes of Virginia college students today

“The challenge to society is to reduce carbon pollution to nearly zero before 2050, or within the lifetimes of most college students today,” Lyon explained. “This means that we are not talking here about being trained to recycle aluminum cans, although that is certainly a part of the solution. We are talking here about a much larger shift- educating students to scale solutions to the scope of the problem.”

“While this can be a daunting challenge,” admitted Jim, “it is the conservation fight of a lifetime.  The fact is 99% of scientists overwhelming agree human reliance on fossil fuels is destabilizing the climate. Is this the legacy we want to leave our children or even the current generations of students today?”

How Virginia colleges and other universities are leading

Jim highlighted several examples of higher education leadership in Virginia, including:

  • Dabney S. Lancaster Community College’s Wind Turbine Service Technology program prepares individuals for career entry and advancement opportunities in the advanced technology applications of wind energy technologies.
  • Randolph College has an organic garden & orchard, an extensive recycling center that accepts CFLs, electronics, CDs, DVDs, in addition to glass, plastic, aluminum and cardboard. Through NWF’s partner, the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), Randolph has commitment to reduce the campus’s carbon footprint through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other strategies.
  • George Mason University’s (GMU) Board of Visitors, in 2007, pledged that the university would build all new construction to a higher environmental standard, specifically, LEED Silver certification level. In addition to two certified National Wildlife Habitats, GMU has purchases 10% of its annual electricity through wind powered Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), avoiding over 17 million pounds of CO2 emissions, which is like taking almost 1,500 cars off the road for a year or like powering 963 homes for a year!
  • Northern Virginia Community College is committed to green building. NVCC’s newly-opened Student Services Building on the Annandale campus recently received their LEED certification award (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design); the student services building is the first LEED Certified building at NVCC. More of NVCC’s campuses will feature LEED buildings soon – Manassas, Woodbridge campuses, etc.
  • Thomas Nelson Community College installed two solar panels to power the lights, ventilation and battery chargers for its motorcycle storage containers used for the campus’s motorcycle safety courses) that are located adjacent to a campus parking lot.

Virginia students gain some greener career insights

These kinds of programs help students prepare for a growing array of greener career opportunities throughout Virginia, he noted.  Drawing on labor market studies developed through the Greenforce Initiative (a partnership with Jobs for the Future and National Wildlife Federation sponsored by the Bank of America Charitable Trust at 100 community colleges in six states), Lyon highlighted some of the Virginia specific job trends of relevance to students.

For example, some of the top green jobs by category in Virginia, include pollution reduction, removal & remediation (with 3402 postings), energy efficiency (with 2148 postings), and natural resource conservation (with 1859 postings). Among the top 10 green skills in Virginia, Lyon explained, are scheduling, HVAC, and inspection, while the leading green certifications in Virginia, include professional engineers, certified safety professionals and certified energy managers.

“We’ll need solar financers, project managers and installers and an array of other renewable energy technologies in Virginia,” explained Lyon, including offshore wind. We’ll also need people skilled in climate mitigation and adaptation,  restoring habitat and protecting biodiversity for people and wildlife.”