Virginia Tech is striving to become a zero-waste campus by 2030. Students like Taylor Bush are playing a hands-on role in pursuing this ambitious 2020 Climate Action Commitment goal.

Over the past academic year, Bush, a graduating senior majoring in fashion merchandising and design within the College of Liberal Arts and Human Studies and minoring in pathways to sustainability, has led a passionate team of Office of Sustainability interns enhancing Virginia Tech’s waste management efforts.

Bush and the Waste Intern Team partnered with Blake Bensman, Virginia Tech Dining Services sustainability manager, to perform research and analysis in support of waste reduction efforts.

The student interns focused on data analysis of each dining center’s end-of-day pre-consumer food waste log recording. The waste internship project was an exciting opportunity for students to gain real-world experience in understanding food production operations and utilize data interpretation skills for the greater good.

Bush played a key role in aggregating large datasets from the dining centers. Through her leadership, Bush’s team analyzed the usage frequency of food waste log reason codes. The student team also developed and submitted a Green RFP through the Office of Sustainability for a community garden on or near campus. This would give students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to grow their own healthy produce locally.  

She has also been involved in numerous universitywide sustainability efforts. During the most recent Virginia Tech Earth Week in April, Bush helped publish an informational guide on recycling and waste management for community members. This guide was coupled with a local trail walk and food drive event that Bush and her team organized. 

As the communications representative on the Waste Intern Team for the 2019-20 academic year, Bush leveraged her creative writing, marketing, and media skills to advance recycling and waste reduction activities through ongoing outreach on campus. 

All of these engagement opportunities have helped Bush expand her leadership, organizational, and communication abilities — all skills she would draw upon throughout a challenging COVID-19 environment.

After two years of participation in the Sustainability Internship Program, Bush has gleaned many learnings. Particularly, how advancing sustainability at scale at the university level requires unmatched planning, partnership, and steady communication.

“Developing, executing, and managing sustainable strategies across multiple units within a large institution like Virginia Tech is an incredible challenge. However, it is very gratifying to see our efforts bring real change — hopefully for many years to come,” said Bush.

Looking ahead to the fall, Bush will continue to build on her sustainability experiences as she starts her master’s program in sustainability management at American University. 

Written by Alexa Briehl