Richmond Institute of Sustainability

RIS Logo #1


What is Sustainability?  Sustainability, a term originally coined by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem at the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1983, is all about our future – a proactive unification of all sectors of human society in an effort to take care of our planet Earth.  Specifically, sustainability requires the cooperation and collaboration of the environmental, social and economic sectors of society.  Sustainable practices are not just related to energy and climate change, they encompass every aspect of our environment and its interconnectivity.  Ultimately, sustainability is about creating human systems that operate for a long time due to a proactive practice and behavior with minimal impact on the natural environment.  Sustainability means preservation of our planet while meeting our current societal needs with the highest quality of life standards possible.

What does “sustainability” mean to the Richmond Region?  For the one million plus Richmonders living in the Richmond region, sustainability means a comprehensive planned, proactive and collaborative process designed to enhance our region’s quality of life while at the same time enhancing the quality of our region’s natural environment.  Truly successful sustainable practices embrace the “we’re all in this together” mentality and require the elimination of jurisdictional boundaries from the minds of those planning and implementing them.  Unfortunately the leaders of the jurisdictions in the Richmond region have yet to grasp the critical importance of cooperation and collaboration and that is not likely to change for many years to come.  Each of these jurisdictions is currently putting forward some level of thought and effort in the name of sustainability, but individually and collectively their efforts are woefully inadequate and completely unconnected – they do not understand that the only way sustainability can happen successfully in each of the individual Richmond jurisdictions is if it is conceived and implemented from a regional and larger perspective.

How do we create a regional plan of sustainability?  Since sustainable practices can only be truly successful if performed in a coordinated fashion across the entire regional community, and since the local regional jurisdictions are not yet ready to act in a coordinated fashion, it is time to establish an independent entity that can embrace the “we’re all in this together” mentality and encourage the necessary regional cooperation and coordination.  This entity would be charged with coordinating the development of a comprehensive regional plan of sustainability and overseeing the implementation of said plan.  This entity would act as a repository and a clearinghouse of information related to all sustainable practices in the regional community of Richmond.  This entity would look to invest and involve all subsets of the regional community, large and small, to participate in the regional plan of sustainability and would offer easy access to all its information and expertise to all interested parties.

The Richmond Institute of Sustainability

Rick Tatnall and Replenish Richmond believe it is time to establish the entity described above and have decided to call this entity the Richmond Institute of Sustainability.  For the foreseeable future it is anticipated that this entity will only be a virtual institution, although it is hoped and expected that these efforts will ultimately lead to a physical institutional presence as well.  Below, please find a description of the RIS Strategic Plan which defines the current whys and related whats of our efforts to create and implement a regional plan of sustainability and the associated Richmond Institute of Sustainability.  As more people and organizations get involved, the RIS Strategic Plan will morph, bob and weave, and expand and contract.

Developing a comprehensive regional plan of sustainability – A viable plan of sustainability first requires a serious understanding of the details of how a society currently operates, including what sustainable efforts are currently in place or in the pipeline.  Next, this awareness is used to develop a proactive planned process to affect positive change where it is needed with an attention to increasing both the quality of life and the quality of the environment.  For the regional Community of Richmond, defined in this plan as the 9 jurisdictions of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, a comprehensive regional plan of sustainability involves a coordinated analysis of how we currently operate in our many societal subsets, and then a proactive planned process to learn from each other while connecting, coordinating and enhancing those efforts.  These regional subsets include our local governments and their public schools, private schools and our many institutions of higher learning, businesses and non-profit organizations and faith institutions, historic and cultural institutions, and certainly our neighborhoods and the 1,000,000+ Richmonders who live in the region.

The RIS Strategic Plan will start by analyzing how the Richmond region currently operates by formally connecting with the aforementioned community subsets, asking specific questions and requesting detailed responses and information.  Our questions and investigations will delve into all aspects of life in our region, including:

  • How do we consume energy?  Once understood, we can plan to make the process more efficient as we develop ways to reduce consumption while increasing quality of life.
  • How do we consume food and drink and where does it come from?  Once understood, we can plan to make the process more efficient while reducing the energy used and emissions produced by increasing the number of locally sourced food and drink options.
  • What is the environmental impact of the current daily operations in our regional governments, schools and other municipal entities and their facilities?  Once understood, we can plan to reduce the negative impact and enhance the positive impact on our environment while creating regional protocols for sustainable practices.
  • What is the environmental impact of the current daily operations in our region’s homes, businesses and private community?  Once understood, we can plan to reduce the negative impact and enhance the positive impact on our environment with collective attention to the 4 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replenish
  • What is the current health of our natural environment, especially our rivers, streams and wetlands?  Once understood, we can plan to mitigate our negative impact while engaging in regional sustainable practices to enhance and strengthen our natural environment.
  • What is the level of intensity of the community leadership in the Richmond region for sustainability and who are these leaders?  Once understood, we can align current leaders and cheerleaders for sustainability and develop and prepare future leaders, as nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.

Tapping into the powerful relationship between education and sustainability – Successful sustainability initiatives are grounded in education as sustainable practices require people to develop a heightened awareness of how their daily choices may impact their local environment and the planet as a whole.  Sustainable practices are the most effective when they are learned as a youth so they become instinctual throughout adulthood.  The RIS Strategic Plan recognizes that this reality puts our regional K-12 schools, public and private, in a position to be a leader in our community-wide sustainability effort and will use its current efforts with George Mason Elementary School in Richmond’s East End as a model for schools across the region.  Attention to our schools offers a dual benefit as we train young people to become environmental stewards and maximize sustainability in the school systems facilities, which is an important starting point for increasing sustainable practices in the Richmond region.

Connecting with the region’s sustainability experts – While the Richmond regional community as a whole is way behind the curve in its level of awareness and implementation of core sustainable practices, the region is not without expertise and experience.  Continuing the focus on education, the frontrunners of sustainability, both in awareness and implementation, walk the campuses of Richmond’s institutions of higher learning and are led by the Offices of Sustainability at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond.  The RIS Strategic Plan intends to connect with each of the region’s colleges and universities listed below to understand their efforts in the name of sustainability, facilitate their collaboration and cooperation, and to tap into the energy of each institution’s student and teacher communities.

  • J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College / John Tyler Community College / Randolph-Macon College / Union Presbyterian Seminary / University of Richmond / Virginia Commonwealth University / Virginia State University / Virginia Union University

The RIS Strategic Plan has also identified a number of regional environmentally-based businesses and non-profit organizations that are critical to the development and implementation of a regional plan of sustainability and will be included in the information gathering process.  This growing list of organizations and entities currently includes, in no particular order:

  • Environics Foundation International – Sustainability RVA / Virginia Cooperative Extension / Tricycle Gardens / Shalom Farms, United Methodist Urban Ministries of Richmond / Renew Richmond / FeedMore / Backyard Farmer / Farm to Family / Chesapeake Bay Foundation / James River Park System / James River Association / James River Advisory Council (JRAC) / Central Virginia Waste Management Authority (CVWMA) / Virginia Recycling Association / TFC Recycling / GrowRVA / FeedRVA / Audubon Society / Virginia Conservation Network / Sierra Club / Maymont / Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden / Enrichmond / Virginia Farm Bureau / Field of Dreams Farm / Garden Club of Virginia / Scenic Virginia / Slow Food RVA / Amy’s Organic Garden / Another Chance to Excel (ACE) Program / Colesville Nursery / Virginia Gleaning Network / Watershed Architects

Connecting with the region’s community development experts – The RIS Strategic Plan understands that while sustainability is certainly greatly involved with our natural environment, it is equally connected and influenced by our social and cultural environment.  A regional plan of sustainability must include the input and support of the core group of community development organizations and entities that are interwoven into the fabric of the regional Community of Richmond.  The growing list of community development and support organizations targeted by the RIS Strategic Plan currently includes:

  • United Way of Greater Richmond / Richmond Health District / Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) / Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) / Partnership for Smarter Growth (PSG) / Better Housing Coalition / American Red Cross / The Community Foundation / Salvation Army / Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond / William Byrd Community House / Richmond Regional Planning District Commission (RRPDC) / Richmond Metropolitan Authority (RMA) / Habitat for Humanity

Connecting with the region’s business development community – The RIS Strategic Plan must have the input and support of the Richmond region’s business community, both for the financial support necessary and because the businesses community controls a significant portion of the region’s facilities, assets and resources.  In order to invest and involve the Richmond regional business community, the RIS Strategic Plan intends to connect with and gain the support of the following business development organizations and associations:

  • Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce / Metropolitan Business League / Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce / Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce / Greater Richmond Partnership / Retail Merchants Association / Richmond Region Tourism / Virginia Tourism Corporation

Connecting to the global Community of Richmond – The RIS Strategic Plan intends to be a shining example of the phrase “think globally, act locally” through its connection to the budding global community called Richmonds of the World.  There are 90 other communities of Richmond around the world on six continents and we intend for the Richmond Institute of Sustainability to become an international institution, offering each community of Richmond an opportunity to enhance their quality of life through their connection to the global community of Richmond.  It is hoped and expected that the education process of our regional plan of sustainability will be significantly enlivened as we intersect students with their counterparts in other Richmonds.  The best way to understand the interconnectivity of our earth’s environment is to understand and experience other regional environments around the world.  Modern communications technology and a connection to 90 other communities will increase the amount of information available and will increase student’s enthusiasm for the process.

Recycling, the gateway to sustainability – A successful regional plan of sustainability can only happen when a growing number of Richmonders become environmental stewards who intentionally consider the impact of their daily lives on the regional and global environment.  As noted, education is an important component of environmental stewardship because sustainability is a complex, multifaceted objective touching all aspects of our lives.  Wrapping one’s mind around sustainability is a stepping stone process that requires a firm foundation of understanding and belief.  The RIS Strategic Plan believes that foundation is rooted in an understanding  and appreciation for recycling.  Recycling at a very high level is a critical building block to a successful plan of sustainability, in part because recycling requires a certain level of awareness and understanding by citizens to properly recycle as much waste as possible.  Proper recycling is not complicated and if done regularly, does not take a lot of time or effort as it becomes a regular part of daily activity.  But if recycling is perceived to be too complicated to understand or bothersome to do, then sustainability can never happen.  Overall, our regional community does a poor job of recycling.   The RIS Strategic Plan believes the only way to a successful regional plan of sustainability is for Richmond to become a serious recycling community.

RVA Green Team Logo #1The RVA Green Team

The RIS Strategic Plan needs a hook to start to get into the hearts and minds of Richmonders across the region, so Replenish Richmond has created the RVA Green Team which is a grass-roots campaign to encourage and incentivize environmental stewardship in the RVA, especially in our youth.  The RIS Strategic Plan intends to invest and involve Richmonders across the region to become Members of the RVA Green Team by offering 2 hours of extra “green service to their community” every month.  The RIS Strategic Plan also intends to create RVA Green Team Chapters at schools across the Richmond region, and then to connect them in a web of environmental information and activity.  The RVA Green Team will emphasize recycling and the power of community and school gardens and intends to use the youth of Richmond to reach their parents and family members.

As previously mentioned, the George Mason Elementary School Chapter of the RVA Green Team will be used as a model for the development of school based sustainability efforts grounded in the 4 R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replenish.  Last year George Mason won 1st Place ($1,000 Prize) from the Sierra Club for its recycling initiative, which is a plan to ultimately recycle 100% of the school’s waste, including and especially the recyclable waste from meals in the cafeteria.  In the spring of 2014 George Mason will commence a student-run initiative to change the way waste is disposed of in the cafeteria.  The goal is to affect by the end of the school year an ordered throw-away process that captures all items that can be recycled, especially food waste that can go into the school’s compost bin, which will later be used to strengthen the school’s courtyard gardens.  Starting with the new school year in September 2014, George Mason will establish the recycling cafeteria policies as standard operating procedure in the cafeteria and will be engaged to teach other schools how to do implement the same programs.

Another important element of the George Mason Elementary Recycling Initiative involves enhancing the ability for all residents of our regional community to be able to recycle.  Currently, the families of most of the students who attend George Mason do not have a recycling service or receptacles available to them where they live.  Many live in RRHA housing communities or apartment complexes that do not offer recycling.  The RVA Green Team goals at George Mason include expanding recycling to these communities in a model format that can be replicated in similar communities across the Richmond region and beyond.

The RIS Strategic Plan, as generally described above, is in the early stages of implementation and expects to gain significant traction throughout the regional community of Richmond in 2014.  The ultimate goal of this strategic plan is the creation of a comprehensive regional plan of sustainability and an equally comprehensive information database housed together under an entity we are proudly calling the Richmond Institute of Sustainability.  This Institute will have both physical and virtual elements and will act as the sustainability connection point for the jurisdictions and other social subsets of the Community of Richmond.  Through the Richmonds of the World organization the Institute will connect our Community of Richmond to 90 other communities of Richmond around the world on six continents, which will significantly enhance available information, ideas and enthusiasm.

The RIS Strategic Plan Timeline

Step 1 – Find out who is doing what as relates to sustainability in the Richmond Region and what is currently in the pipeline – formally define our present – Timeframe: January thru August, 2015

Before we try to shape our future, we need to define our present.  Before the regional Community of Richmond can start to accelerate its sustainable efforts and increase cooperation and collaboration, it is critically important to understand what is currently being done in the name of sustainability, how effective are these efforts, what collaboration exists, and what other sustainable efforts are currently in the planning pipeline.  Step 1 of the RIS Strategic Plan involves a comprehensive investigation of current sustainable efforts being practiced by the various governmental and other social subsets of the Community of Richmond, which Replenish Richmond considers to be the footprint of the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission (RRPDC) representing the following nine jurisdictions – City of Richmond / Counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Powhatan / Town of Ashland.

All of these governments and their related school systems will be interviewed and information will be collected about all of their efforts in the name of sustainability, all efforts in the planning process.  The same will be done for every organization defined previously in this report.  The collected information will be catalogued and filed for use in a print and on-line format.

Step 2 – Use what we find to create a regional plan of sustainability, then work the plan – details to be determined – Timeframe: September 2015 to Forever