Sustainability leaders from across SUNY attend a reception in the
Solar Strand after the day's conference sessions. Photo: Nancy J.
In 2006, Charles F. Zukoski, then a high-ranking administrator at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was asked to
support a plan to make the university climate neutral by 2030.
His initial reaction?
“I thought it was crazy,” said Zukoski, provost and
executive vice president for academic affairs at UB since
2012.“Why in the world would you commit to something like
He kept thinking it over and, eventually, came to the conclusion
that he was wrong. Finding a way to reduce or offset all of the
university’s greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t be easy
or inexpensive, he said, but it was the right to do.
“I’ve come full circle since 2006,” he
said.“At universities, we educate the leaders of tomorrow. We
can talk about living in a sustainable way, but we also need to
The story was one of many shared during the 2013 SUNY
Sustainability Conference held earlier this week in UB’s
Jacobs Executive Development Center in Buffalo’s Allentown
neighborhood. With UB acting as host, roughly 75 leaders from
across the state met to discuss what they’re doing to make
New York’s college campuses more sustainable.
That includes, but is not limited to:
● Farmingdale State College, which recently installed a
solar-powered charging station for 20 electric cars.
● Binghamton University, which, among other efforts,
offers a minor in sustainable engineering.
● UB, which recently launched a sustainability academy
that allows like-minded undergraduates to live and learn together.
The university also operates the nation’s most publicly
accessible solar array.
The aforementioned projects, as well as the conference itself,
are indicative of SUNY’s commitment to not only use its
resources wisely, but also to educate the roughly 465,000 students
that populate its 64 campuses, SUNY Sustainability Director Deborah
Singer Howard said.
It’s small projects, such as bike-sharing programs, as
well as larger projects, including UB’s 750-kilowatt Solar
Strand, that will help SUNY achieve its plan to reduce system-wide,
nonrenewable energy consumption by 30 percent by 2020, she
The conference included lectures by Robert
“Skip”Backus, CEO of the Omega Institute, which The New
York Times called in 2007 “perhaps the most prominent New Age
institution” in the nation, and researchers such as
UB’s Samina Raja.
Backus spoke of the Omega Institute’s efforts to turn its
sprawling, nearly 200-acre campus in Rhinebeck, N.Y., into a more
sustainable and eco-friendly business. The process, he said, is
similar to what many SUNY institutions are attempting to do.
Raja, an associate professor of urban and regional planning in
the School of Architecture and Planning, discussed creating
sustainable food systems on university campuses. She has partnered
with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Buffalo Niagara
Medical Campus, the Massachusetts Avenue Project and other entities
to promote healthier living and eating in Buffalo and beyond.
The conference included tours of the Solar Strand and
Buffalo’s West Side, where PUSH (People United for
Sustainable Housing) Buffalo, a nonprofit organization, is
dedicated to providing energy-efficient and affordable housing.
Ryan McPherson, UB’s director of sustainability, said that
UB was among the first 100 universities nationwide to pledge to
become climate neutral by 2030—the same effort Zukoski spoke
of during his time in Illinois.
McPherson also noted UB’s tradition of creating more
sustainable communities, from its engagement in Love Canal in the
late 1970s to more recent efforts, such as conducting research and
service to help clean up waterways in Western New York, as well as
reduce air pollution.
“It was a pleasure hosting our SUNY colleagues here in
Buffalo as we continue to chart a course forward in building
resilience, increasing awareness and minimizing our environmental
footprint on the future,” McPherson said. “As public
research institutions, our model of sustainability focuses on
finding solutions to global challenges through research, educating
individuals about these challenges, setting the bar high for
sustainability in our own operations, and sharing our experiences
and partnering with the external community.”