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UB Submits Plan to Reach Carbon Neutrality

Plan resulted from intensive, two-year effort by students, faculty and staff

Release Date: September 15, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After two years of planning, drafts, public presentations and feedback, the University at Buffalo today submitted a plan for achieving climate neutrality to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).

UB faculty, students and staff contributed to the 100-page UB Climate Action Plan to fulfill the promise UB President John B. Simpson made in March 2007 when he signed the Presidents Climate Commitment. In signing the statement, Simpson pledged that UB would develop and release an institutional action plan describing how the university would achieve "climate-neutrality," reducing or offsetting all of its greenhouse gas emissions.

UB was the first Western New York institution and first SUNY university center to sign the pledge, and among the nation's first 150 signatories. The ACUPCC now has 650 signatories.

"This plan signals a change in the way we do business, but in important ways it is also very consistent with our longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability," said Simpson. "This plan is about taking action now because in the long run, it will be far more expensive -- to our students, our campus and our community -- to do nothing. Given our long history of environmental leadership, and our role as a knowledge-producing institution, it is right for UB to set this important example."

The plan outlines how UB will reach climate neutrality by the year 2030, but the process of developing that plan over the past two years has resulted in significant changes already, according to Robert G. Shibley, professor of architecture and planning and senior advisor to Simpson on the UB master plan.

"We are already doing things differently," says Shibley, who also chairs UB's Environmental Stewardship Committee. "It's now part of the UB culture to construct buildings according to national standards for environmentally sustainable construction -- buildings that are rated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold or silver."

During the past year, new buildings on each of UB's three campuses -- the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the Educational Opportunity Center and a new North (Amherst) Campus student residence hall -- have been launched or announced. They are all are being designed to LEED specifications.

Earlier this year, UB and the New York Power Authority announced one of UB's most aggressive energy-reduction projects, construction of a 1.1 megawatt solar energy array that will power UB's student apartments.

That project, says Shibley, underscores how UB's climate planning is inspiring the university to push harder for meaningful environmental change.

"The Climate Action Plan gives us the logic to target significant measures, like the solar array, so that we can start capturing value from them and reinvest in projects that will produce additional energy savings," he says.

Partnerships between the Environmental Stewardship Committee, which includes student, faculty and staff membership from all the university's divisions and from such campus groups as UB Green, the Environmental Task Force, the Environmental Network and Engineers for a Sustainable World, also have produced a range of environmentally focused measures. These include an official university policy requiring the use of 100 percent recycled post-consumer paper, improved resources for bicycling at UB, more aggressive carpooling, and campus dining that features locally sourced food and trayless dining, which will save an estimated 40,000 pounds of food waste every semester.

Perhaps the biggest change at UB, Shibley notes, is that environmental responsibility is no longer seen as the niche responsibility of a small population on campus, such as UB Green and other staff in University Facilities.

"Every office and department at UB now has a family of green responsibilities and a capacity to address them," says Shibley. "If you look at the total level of effort now and compare it with the level of effort even a year ago, you see far more institutional engagement on environmental issues now."

For example, UB's Professional Staff Senate next month will sponsor a Greener Shade of Blue & You Day, focused on personal environmental stewardship for UB students, faculty and staff. UB's Student Affairs office also highlighted UB's green mission during opening weekend at the university when T-shirts sporting "How Will UB Green" messages were given to 1,000 freshmen. And UB's Office of Campus Parking and Transportation has launched partnerships with bus companies to organize student trips home for vacations and holidays, a move expected to reduce students' car usage on campus.

Chris Llop, a senior electrical engineering major and the Environmental Stewardship Committee's student representative, fully supports the plan, and its recommendations for changing UB's culture.

"We need to foster a culture where sustainable actions are expected and praised," says Llop, "so people feel good about taking the extra steps to recycle instead of throwing something out. We need to come together, across departments, across the student-faculty-staff divide, and we need to start now."

Developed by UB's Environmental Stewardship Committee in partnership with consultants from Ecology & Environment, the plan covers the broadest range of environmental impacts from UB, from the teaching of more courses in sustainability and the funding of a seed program for environmental research to green computing and restrictions on freshman car ownership. The plan recommends that a senior-level sustainability director be hired to coordinate UB's progress toward climate neutrality.

It also recommends early adoption a broad range of strategies, including development of an environmental degree program, the purchase of renewable energy credits and increasing recycling of campus waste to 50 percent from its current level of 33 percent.

UB's greatest energy consumption by far comes from purchased electricity -- totaling 52 percent. The Climate Action Plan recommends three scenarios to reduce electrical energy usage, the most aggressive of which would get UB to zero emissions through a variety of significant mitigation measures plus the purchase of offsets equal to the remaining emissions. Shibley says these efforts will go forward even as UB's campus footprint and enrollment grow under the UB 2020 plan.

One change that will occur this semester involves the development of a new UB planning board, which will emerge from the current Space Management and Facilities Planning Committee that has guided development of a new comprehensive physical plan for the university.

With the physical planning process complete and a final public presentation scheduled for Oct. 27, the new planning board will shift its focus from planning to implementation, says Shibley, and the Climate Action Plan will serve as one of the master plan's key guiding principles.

The ultimate effect of the combined efforts of the physical master plan and the Climate Action Plan will be dramatic and comprehensive, Shibley says. For example, both plans are focused on better transit services for UB's three campuses and recommend a "one-seat ride" from UB's Downtown Campus to the North Campus, meaning that a commuter would not have to switch modes or vehicles anywhere along the way.

"That may be a number of years away," notes Shibley, "but once we achieve it, it will have a huge return on investment not only to UB but to the entire region."

UB's Environmental Stewardship Committee will continue working as the body responsible for managing and implementing the Climate Action Plan, setting immediate priorities for action, holding responsible parties to account and measuring progress toward completion.

The Climate Action Plan requires the committee to update the plan annually and conduct a major re-examination every five years.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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