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Experience India EcoChallenge

During this year’s EcoChallenge celebrating the diverse regions and cultures of India, 134 participants in 22 teams selected daily actions to promote sustainable behavior on campus and at home.

Together, we had a big impact.

- 6,949 minutes spent learning about sustainability and India
- 168 meatless or vegan meals consumed
- 7,505 minutes spent being mindful
- 3,620 minutes not spent in front of a screen
- 1,352 gallons of water saved

The Experience India EcoChallenge was a great opportunity for learning, engagement, and partnership. The Office for Sustainability is very grateful for the participation of so many people across campus and for the chance to collaborate with the Office of International Education. 

Challenge Winners

First Place: Kay MacDonald
Living-Learning and Roadmap Programs
Prize: Tea Steeper and Indian Tea Assortment 

Second Place: Martha Merritt
Office of International Education
Prize: Yoga Mat and Assistance Block

Third Place (tie): David Donaldson
Events, Conferences, and Support Services
Prize: "50 Curries of India" Cookbook

Third Place (tie): Susan Galvin
Information Services
Prize: "50 Curries of India" Cookbook

Winning Team: Information Services
Prize: Loose Leaf Chai Tea

Learn about India

Read through each day's email to learn about sustainability and the environment in different locations throughout the region.

Monday: Mindfulness & Harmony

Mindfulness Practice: A Brief History

Originating in Northern India, the mindfulness practice has been passed down from various religious traditions as a tool for pursuing spiritual progress. The practice has also been shown to be an effective modality for reducing mental distress.. 

To understand the Buddhist view of meditation, we must again start at the beginning:  2500 years ago with the life of the Buddha. The Buddha was raised as a prince in Northern India and as he came of age, he was confronted with examples of human suffering. He decided to renounce  his privileged life and became a wandering yogi, seeking to escape suffering. He ultimately developed a novel meditative path that led him to what he called “enlightenment,” which can be understood as a complete understanding of one's own mind and of mental suffering.

Through the lens of meditation, the Buddhist psychology focuses on the moment-to-moment process by which we construct our version of self and the world. This relaxation has been shown to reduce the intensity of whatever psychic conflicts we struggle with, regardless of their nature or origin. It may result in an improved ability to relate to the world in a more accurate and straightforward manner.

As you go through today focused on mindfulness and harmony, you are encouraged to explore the practice of mindfulness or other practices that incorporate mindfulness, such as yoga and meditation, as a centering practice in your life! Check out campus resources below for more information.

Learn More: What is the difference between yoga, meditation, and mindfulness?

Yoga: As defined by an Indian philosopher, yoga is the practice of promoting the unison of body and mind and envisages wellness of human beings both physical, mental and spiritual.

Meditation: Meditation is a part of yoga, which deals with mental relaxation and concentration. Here, attention is focused on thoughts and breath. Being aware of breathing automatically controls the thought process and thus relaxes the mind completely

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

Resources for Mindfulness on Campus

Mindful Mondays
This space for mindfulness practice is designed to enhance individual practice, create a more mindful community, and offer instruction in mindfulness and meditation. This is an opportunity to share knowledge of the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual — the science-based benefits of meditation. Those who join us will experience the tangible benefits of mindfulness and meditation in their own lives and will be encouraged to share and articulate them.

Sacred Pause
Every Friday, students gather in the Inter-Religious Prayer Room of the Wilton Center for Sacred Pause. This spiritual, nonreligious service invites us to share our lives with one another. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the news unfolding in our larger world. The service includes opportunities for meditative breathing, reflection, and optional sharing with the gathered community. 

Zen Meditation
Zen practice emphasizes zazen, or seated meditation, as the primary means to realize the insights of the Buddha. This practice also extends into everyday activities such as eating, working, and relationships. No previous experience is needed, but beginner-focused workshops are scheduled occasionally throughout the year. Hosted by the UR Zen Buddhist Sangha.

Tuesday: Powering the Future

Clean Energy in India

Renewable energy offers significant environmental benefits, making it an important driver in helping us meet our carbon emission reduction targets in the fight against climate change. With India’s growing economy, power consumption is only going to rise, so adoption of alternate forms of energy is the ideal way forward to balance economic growth and a sustainable environment.

India is becoming a global leader in renewable energy in an effort to move toward carbon neutrality. For example, the country recognizes the financial benefit to building and operating solar farms, rather than running existing coal-fired power plants. Since 2010, the government of India has taken steps to ensure consistent growth in the segment. This in turn has helped the solar industry reach economies of scale in a short span of time, making India the cheapest producer of solar power.

In 2010, the total installed solar capacity was 10 MW and in 2016, the installed capacity stood at 6000 MW - a steep climb of 600 times in just 6 years. As of March 2019, the total installed solar capacity stands at 30 GW, accounting for an increase of 5 times in 3 years. Today, solar has reached 30% of the 2022 target of 100 GW contributing 38% to the renewable energy mix.

The numbers are a testament to the focused approach of India’s government and the positive response from solar developers leading to exponential growth. Solar power consumers in India today enjoy better energy security by locking in the cost of solar electricity for a period of 25 years, thereby can hedge against variations in grid electricity prices, which are tied to fossil fuel costs.

Hydroelectric Power Potential in India

The development of small hydroelectric power (plants with an installed capacity of up to 25 MW) is on the rise in India. The country aims to install 10,000 MW of capacity by the end of the decade. These small hydro power projects normally do not encounter the problems associated with large hydroelectric projects, including deforestation and the need for community resettlement. Smaller projects also have the potential to meet the power requirements of remote and isolated areas. These factors make small hydro power one of the most attractive renewable sources of grid-quality power generation.

Learn More About Renewable Energy on Campus

Spider Solar
The University of Richmond has constructed a 20 megawatt (MW) solar array 50 miles away from campus in Spotsylvania County in partnership with SPower. The array produces enough energy to account for 100% of our electricity usage on campus. University of Richmond’s Spider Solar project makes UR the first institution of higher education in the southeast to match 100 percent of its electricity needs with solar energy from one source. Spider Solar is expected to produce 41,000 megawatt hours of solar energy, neutralizing 19,720 metric tons of carbon annually, equivalent to the annual electricity use of 4,909 homes. The array will also minimize the University’s exposure to the energy market and ultimately gives UR more control over forecasting our utility expenses.

Solar Tours
The Office for Sustainability offers quick educational tours of the Weinstein Center’s solar array. Participants get an overview of how solar works, what is unique about our array on campus, and why this array is important for the University’s carbon neutrality goals. To learn more or schedule a tour, email sustainability@richmond.edu.

Conserve Energy
The Office for Sustainability has a posted list of lifestyle habits that students and community members can take to make an effort to reduce their energy consumption. Visit the link here to learn more!

Wednesday: Closing the Loop

Waste in India

When we throw things out, it is easy to think that they just go “away”. The reality is that what you throw out will most likely end up in a landfill. Today we are Closing the Loop by diverting waste from the landfill, finding new ways to use what we have, and avoiding single-use plastics that have reusable alternatives. 

According to PlastIndia Foundation, India consumed an estimated 15.5 million tons of plastic in 2016-17. In many Indian cities, there is no processing of waste, and when there is, what is collected typically ends up in landfills. Without a uniform infrastructure for waste disposal, closing the loop of products in India is a rather difficult endeavor. 

On World Environment Day in 2018, Prime Minister Narenda Modi pledged to phase out single-use plastic in India by 2022. Similar phase-outs have begun occurring worldwide, and even more municipalities have banned single-use plastics. These initiatives show that governments are taking the consequences of plastic pollution seriously. Public awareness about issues with plastic has been growing across India. Mumbai held the world's largest beach clean-up in 2017, plastic recycling vending machines in Delhi, and the plastic phase-out is nearing its deadline. While these initiatives may not fully eradicate plastic pollution, they contribute to closing the loop and reducing unnecessary plastic from the waste stream.

There are a number of cafes in India that are starting to do their part in mitigating waste by diverting plastic from the landfill. Garbage Cafe at Ambikapur offers meals to homeless people in exchange for plastic waste. This cafe is run by Ambikapur’s municipal corporation who plans to use the collected plastic waste to build roads in the city. Ambikapur is the first of its kind in India, but many cafes have followed suit in other areas of the country.

Composting on Campus

Last semester, the Office for Sustainability, Custodial and Environmental Services, and Dining Services began piloting composting in the Forum tent, where student staff educated their peers on correct disposal of their food waste. This semester, composting locations are expanding to include other dining locations across campus. Currently, you can compost your food scraps and to-go waste at the Forum tent and at Organic Krush. Ask any of the Compost Coordinators stationed at these dining locations any questions you have about where to dispose of your waste. Please read the bin signage to make sure you’re not contaminating the waste stream! Pre- and post-consumer compost is picked up by NOPE, a composting facility located in Richmond. Learn more about the program here.

Thursday: Feeding Us & the Future

Sustainable Dining in India

India has been perceived as a development enigma: Recent rates of economic growth have not been matched by similar rates in health and nutritional improvements. In order to meet the United Nations' second Sustainable Development Goal of achieving zero hunger by 2030, India faces a substantial challenge in meeting basic nutritional needs in addition to addressing population, environmental and dietary pressures. That being said, arguably the biggest challenge that India faces as a country in developing more sustainable dining is increasing agricultural efficiency.

Traditional Indian Diet

As Western diets with high meat and dairy intake become more ubiquitous around the world, it is critical to examine both the environmental and health impacts of such change. In India, where both undernutrition  and obesity are simultaneously prevalent, it is especially important to approach new food policy with both human rights and sustainable habits in mind. 

Traditional Indian food that is largely plant-based with some red meat and fish can demonstrate how a nutritious and sustainable diet can be provided to the world’s projected population of 10 billion people by 2050 without degrading the environment. India as a country has the opportunity to show the world how traditional diets high in seeds, nuts, vegetables, whole grains and legumes can provide sustainable nutrition without wrecking the planet.

Resources for Mindful Food Choices on Campus

What we eat affects our bodies and our personal well-being. It also effects the well-being of the communities and ecosystems where the food is produced and sold. Buying locally, eating lower on the food chain, and being conscious of food waste can change your health and the health of your community for the better. Simple dietary choices can support your local economy, reduce your carbon footprint, and greatly reduce the amount of waste you produce

At the University of Richmond, Dining Services follows Green Purchasing Guidelines, which incorporate environmental criteria as part of normal purchasing evaluation, in addition to product safety, price, performance and availability including but not limited to:

- Use of recycled-content paper towels and toilet paper.
- Conveying our buying preference for local, recycled, and sustainable materials.
- Developing relationships with manufacturers who are committed to supporting sustainability initiatives and have good environmental track records.
- Including a diverse group of vendors including minority, locally, and regionally owned vendors.
- Focusing procurement efforts only on products with an "Energy Star" rating when available.
- Encouraging suppliers to minimize packaging to eliminate excess waste while maintaining strength (consistent with care of the product). When possible, packaging should be made of recycled materials.

Visit here to learn more about simple changes you can make to eat more sustainably on campus and to take a "Be a Green Spider" quiz on sustainable dining.

Friday: Water is Life

Water in India

Water provides, habitat, nourishment, protection, and many other services that make our bodies work and our planet habitable. It is sometimes easy to take clean water for granted, given that it is easily accessible to us at University of Richmond. However, in some parts of the world, even in some parts of the United States, clean water for drinking and sanitation is not always available, and natural disasters can dramatically alter water supply. 

Currently, India is facing a major water crisis. The increasing frequency of droughts and floods across the country is disrupting daily life. Sea level rise is encroaching upon major cities along the coast and is making storms even more severe. Though India cannot stop natural disasters from happening, cities can prepare themselves for their effects. 

The city of Bangalore demonstrates challenges in water management. Bangalore has no perennial water source of its own, so it pumps water from the Cauvery River nearly 90 miles away. However, a quarter of Bangalore’s population is not connected to the river water supply and has to mine groundwater to survive. This alters Bangalore’s water table and is causing water supply to become unreliable. Bangalore residents are seeking more effective ways to manage their water.

Natural disasters, water management problems, and sea-level rise are becoming more of an issue everywhere. With the knowledge of the effects that climate change has on water locally and worldwide, awareness of these problems will become more widespread, and dynamic problem-solving can occur.

Dams in India

Did you know that India has 5000+ dams that provide water storage for the country? These dams are essential due to India’s highly seasonal pattern of rainfall. The tallest dam in India is the Tehri dam, located in Uttarakhand.