VCU Community Engagement News

Center for Community Engagement and Impact

Making sustainability more accessible.

By Jenny Pedraza

A rack of gold bikes.

That’s what would probably catch your eye as you walk down Belvidere Street near the Virginia Commonwealth University Monroe Park Campus. Those bikes are part of the RamBikes program, which provides free bicycle service, education and bike loans to the VCU community. 

But tucked toward the back of the RamBikes building is the home of a powerhouse of green innovation and environmental stewardship. The VCU Office of Sustainability, led by Erin Stanforth, VCU director of sustainability, fosters a multi-faceted culture of sustainability, through the responsible use of resources and continuous advocacy for the Richmond community by inspiring simple changes in behavior.

Erin Stanforth“I believe that by helping people see that their lifestyles tend to align with sustainability principles, they become empowered with the knowledge and skills to improve themselves, as well as their communities, through activism and by living with a lesser impact,” Stanforth said.

Stanforth grew up in the hills of North Carolina, with a deep appreciation for the beauty of the southeastern U.S. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in sustainable development, and after graduation, moved to Portland, Ore. to pursue her passion in sustainability. Her first positions in the field allowed her to work in sustainability for Portland Community College. In 2012, Stanforth earned an MBA in sustainable business from Marylhurst University.

In 2014, she relocated back to the South to be closer to family and accepted the position as VCU’s director of sustainability. In addition to leading the university’s sustainability initiatives, Stanforth sits on various sustainability-focused boards throughout the city of Richmond, as well as national sustainability-focused boards and committees.

Guided by Stanforth’s leadership, the Office of Sustainability offers several key programs, in addition to RamBikes.

The Free Store promotes equitable access to everyday needs like school/art supplies, electronics and home goods. VCU students, staff and faculty can donate items and can take items for free.

The MCV Community Garden and Monroe Park Campus Learning Garden provide VCU faculty, staff and students with space to grow their own food and flowers, as well as education on how healthy food can be grown and prepared. Recycling and green roof initiatives also help contribute to VCU’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

But more plans are in the works to broaden the Office of Sustainability’s reach beyond campus. In drafting VCU’s next sustainability plan, Stanforth hopes to focus efforts around social and environmental justice, as well as reducing VCU’s carbon footprint.

“I want us to engage the East End community for feedback on sustainability at VCU, as well as expand our existing programming in the East End to impact more residents,” she said.

In May, VCU and VCU Health System celebrated the opening of the VCU Health Hub at 25th. Located at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and North 25th Street, the Health Hub is a health education and wellness center that serves residents of Richmond’s East End with health screenings, nutrition counseling, behavioral health support, chronic disease management, health education and more.

Working with staff members in the Office of Sustainability, Stanforth plans to partner with the Health Hub this academic year to launch programs around two key areas: healthy eating and food insecurity; and bike safety for youth in the city.

Learning Garden Coordinator Sara Barton will develop education sessions focused on healthy eating, growing your own food (indoors and on a budget!) and combating food insecurity. Bicycle Program Coordinator Sera Erickson plans to collaborate with local non-profits to create a bike safety program for East End youth in the fourth and fifth grades.

“Sustainability is a concept that I believe is firmly embedded in the East End,” Stanforth said. “By bringing useful information to the community, I believe we will empower community members toward healthier lifestyles. It’s about breaking down the barriers that surround environmentalism by making sustainability more accessible to all.”

Categories VCU Health Hub at 25th