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UB compiles sustainability ‘blueprint’

state of sustainability

Published June 19, 2014

“This commitment informs every aspect of our mission as a public research university, from our innovative research and to our curriculum educational programs, our operations and built environment, and our engagement with our broader communities.”
Satish K. Tripathi, President
University at Buffalo

Sustainability efforts at UB go beyond the obvious, like building solar power plants and composting food scraps. Professors teach about air quality, students lead recycling programs and employees carpool.

Yet, that only scratches the surface of UB’s commitment to sustainability, says Ian Bick, a junior majoring in environmental engineering.

He would know.

Bick is among eight undergraduates, a dozen UB faculty members from nearly every school and more than 100 staff members who spent countless hours helping the university’s Office of Sustainability compile an exhaustive, 212-page report that examines how UB:

  • Finds solutions to global sustainability challenges through its research
  • Educates individuals about these challenges through its curriculum and community engagement
  • Promotes healthier, more eco-friendly living on campus and beyond.

Essentially a blueprint of UB’s accomplishments and future goals, the report was certified “Silver” by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS). The designation is perhaps the clearest indication yet that UB is at the forefront of sustainability among North American colleges and universities.

“With a longstanding history of environmental leadership that extends over several decades, the University at Buffalo is committed to creating a better, more sustainable future for all of the communities we serve, locally as well as globally,” says President Satish Tripathi. “This commitment informs every aspect of our mission as a public research university, from our innovative research and to our curriculum educational programs, our operations and built environment, and our engagement with our broader communities.”

UB's STARS submission is the first document to track every sustainability initiative under way at UB and how those initiatives affect the outside world. That includes simple acts like allowing natural vegetation to grow at designated areas on campus, to more complex matters such as filtering nuclear waste from groundwater at the West Valley Demonstration Project, about 30 miles south of Buffalo.

UB’s wide range of educational programs, faculty research and bricks and mortar, such as John and Editha Kapoor Hall, the new, eco-friendly home of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences on the South Campus supported by the NYSUNY 2020 bill signed into law last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, exemplifies its comprehensive commitment to sustainability, says Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services.

“This report shows how UB, as a major public research university, leverages the knowledge of its researchers not only to educate students, but to solve challenges both on campus and off,” Black says. “It also illustrates how university partnerships with government, industry, nonprofits and others can improve life in Western New York and beyond.”

The report was compiled at the urging of UB’s Environmental Stewardship Committee, a group chaired by School of Architecture and Planning Dean Robert Shibley. UB’s score was 55.69, which placed it above average (48.34) among the top 238 colleges and universities committed to sustainability in the U.S., Canada and Mexico participating in the voluntary and self-regulating program.

UB received high marks in planning, administration and community engagement. This is exemplified by the Solar Strand, a 750-kilowatt photovoltaic array that produces enough power for hundreds of student apartments. UB worked with numerous public agencies and more than 40 local contractors to build the array, which is thought to be the most publicly accessible solar power plant in the nation.

“Whether it’s building state-of-the-art student housing with recycled materials or reducing paperwork for student applications, UB’s sustainability plans work to meet today’s needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations,” says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer. “We’re educating students and having a positive impact on Western New York communities and elsewhere. The STARS report shows that UB is a leader promoting sustainability, but also that much work can still be done.”

The report highlights UB’s educational programs, which include plans to open a sustainability academy in 2013, in which undergraduates interested in sustainability issues live and learn together. It also notes that UB has 336 sustainability-related, or sustainability-focused, courses taught by 118 faculty members engaged in sustainability research.

Among the students under their tutelage are Bick and fellow environmental engineering major Nicole Damico, who helped gather data for the report last spring. The students interviewed dozens of faculty and staff members, and gathered information that was folded into the report by Jim Simon, UB sustainability engagement coordinator.

“I knew about some of UB’s sustainability initiatives, like the Solar Strand and composting, but working on the report really opened my eyes to everything that UB is doing,” Damico says. “UB isn’t just reducing its carbon footprint; it’s educating people about sustainability and helping solve problems.”

The report also mentions UB’s operations and buildings, which include William R. Greiner Hall, the first public university residence hall in New York to be certified gold under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. UB has or soon will open five LEED-designed buildings: Barbara and Jack Davis Hall and the Crossroads Culinary Center, both on the North Campus; the Educational Opportunity Center and Clinical and Translational Research Center, both at the Downtown campus; and Kapoor Hall on the South Campus.

The university’s leadership role in environmental issues dates back to the 1970s when UB researchers helped investigate the Love Canal disaster and administrators established Rachel Carson College. UB continued its focus on the environment during the next two decades by conducting energy audits of its buildings to reduce energy use and promoting a broad array of conservation efforts.

UB went further in 2007 when it was among the first 150 institutions of higher learning to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and agree to become climate neutral by 2030. Click here (621 KB) to view UB’s Climate Action Plan.