Chris Renschler


Chris Renschler, UB associate professor of geography.

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

My course "Introduction to Soil Science" (Geo352) features topics like integrated soil, water and nutrient management, and household composting. Over the past few years, a small group of interested undergraduate and graduate students in this course led an independent effort to establish a community garden on the UB North Campus. This year, the students' dream became a reality.  A very dedicated group is currently taking soil samples and developing a strategy to manage several small garden plots just north of the Student Union. This will be a great opportunity to interact with students, faculty, Campus Dining and Shops, community gardening associations and state agencies- like the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, while managing e natural resources first hand. I look forward to taking students in my soils course to the gardens, having them present their experiences and discuss their questions in class.

What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?

My integrated research, learning and stakeholder outreach activities with students, faculty, and local, US and international collaborators are coordinated through the Landscape-based Environmental System Analysis & Modeling (LESAM) laboratory. I designed LESAM when I joined UB in 2001 to bring geoecological research, teaching and outreach to the University at Buffalo, the WNY region, and frankly to the US. Over the years, it has established itself as a unique university-wide, multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary, intellectual networking laboratory to develop and implement integrated, user-friendly analysis and modeling techniques to collaborate with international partners and stakeholders using GIScience, Remote Sensing, and Environmental Modeling to support rapid, practical and effective decision-making in sustainably managing natural resources and extreme events.

My interdisciplinary research agenda is geared towards bridging the existing gap between natural resources managers who understand and deal with natural processes and their variability on a day-to-day-basis, and disaster managers who need to manage rapidly unfolding situations and human behavior often without appropriate process understanding. Both of these “environmental managers” can learn from each other and combine core principles - such as “sustainability” and “resilience”.  The qualitative and quantitative techniques and modeling tools of both environmental managers can potentially be used (with some modifications) for any time assessment and decision-making, including those in times of slow- and fast-onset extreme events and related unfolding disasters (e.g. climate change/sea level rise and hurricanes or floods, respectively). This is a tremendous advantage to avoid miscommunication and mistrust before, during and in the aftermath of disasters in the realm of Human-Environmental Interaction.

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

Undergraduate and graduate students have worked alongside me and the LESAM collaborators in different cultural settings with top leaders in natural resources and extreme events management. In fact, in all of the research projects that I have worked in over the years, I was able to successfully propose, design and lead research, teaching and implementation initiatives that changed the perception and status quo of research in geography, natural resources management, geohazards, and disaster management. Students are able to not only participate, but also to initiate their own research ideas and look for potential sources of funding for their research. I really have to acknowledge my own Masters and PhD advisors in Germany and the US that opened my eyes and encouraged me to operate that way.

What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?

If things break, I try to fix them before putting them into the garbage. This practice often results in science experiments with my kids to discover how things work, and how to –sometimes- successfully repair items and keep using them for their original purpose, or how to create something new and exciting. Recycling and gardening are also great passions in my family. Even with a small garden (or even without a garden when I lived in a student house), composting and observing the short-term and long-term benefits of nutrient recycling as organic matter, and later humus, is very exciting and rewarding.  Gardening is our own science lab at home ... with the outcome being delicious strawberries, peppers, pumpkins and other vegetables or fruits.

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

There is a lot of energy saving that can be done at UB.  I would like to see energy studies conducted to evaluate the wide scale installation of motion detectors in every class room and hallway to power down lights, computers and projectors after a period of inactivity.  I would also like to see more bicycle related services on campus.  Installing more racks and storage sheds on campus would be a great first step. However, a station to fix a flat, sign out tools or pump up tire would be nice.  The trend of using the bicycle has been catching on with students, staff and faculty and should be further promoted. I lived and studied and in the Netherlands and they really have figured it out the way of integrate bicycles and public transport.

Learn more about Renschler's research.