Ken Shockley, associate professor of philosophy and academic
director of UB's sustainability academy, and his family.
We asked Ken Shockley, UB associate professor of philosophy and
academic director of UB's sustainability academy, to tell us about
his work in, and thoughts on sustainability.
What are you doing to help UB become more
First, my most significant contribution to sustainability at UB
is through the new Sustainability Academy, which I direct. The
academy provides a center for sustainability activities and
initiatives not just for students in the academies, but also for
the broader UB community. Second, much of my teaching is focused on
environmental matters, or directly on sustainability. I endeavor to
show students the interconnections between their core subjects,
sustainability, and their everyday lives inside and outside the
university. By looking at how our actions affect others, both now
and in the future, I try to help students see the significance of
integrating sustainability as a goal for their professional and
personal lives. Finally, through the academy, through my teaching,
and through my research, a good deal of my time is increasingly
spent developing environmental and sustainability-related
initiatives at UB.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you
pursue at UB?
My research focuses on environmental ethics and the translation
of environmental values into policy. In both research and teaching
my interests intersect with applied issues in policy analysis and
environmental science. Recently much of my work has been focused on
the ethical dimensions of climate change. In particular, I am
interested in finding ways to balance economic and social
development with the need to adapt to a changing world in an
ethically acceptable manner. My present project investigates the
troubling disconnect between personal experience and the reasons we
invoke in public to justify environmental policy. I think that if
we focus on the values people use in describing environmental
problems and concerns to one another, we have a better chance of
developing environmental policies that are both popular and capable
of providing sustainable solutions.
How are students involved in your sustainability
Recently, through the sustainability academy, I launched an
internship program (which is not limited to academies students)
connecting UB students to the broader environmental community in
western New York. The internship program allows students to see how
a broad range of environmental and social considerations contribute
to the development of policy and social initiatives. Aside from the
internship programs, my teaching informs much of my work. In many
of my classes I ask students to comment on recent environmental and
sustainability issues in the news. The perspectives shared by
students help me generate a broad set of examples of how the values
held by individuals shape social views on environmental
What is the one thing you would like people to know that you
do in your personal life to further sustainability?
Sustainability requires that we view our actions through a wider
lens. In my own life I try to see how the little things combine to
form a big picture. In my family we try to remember that the little
things add up. A little less meat, a little more exercise, a little
more tolerance of inclement weather when I consider whether to ride
my bike… all can lead to an improved, more sustainable life
Most generally, I suppose, I try to make decisions keeping in
mind the enlarged perspective available through this wider lens.
The enlarged perspective asks us to see items, whether computers
and cars or pencils and buildings in terms of their life cycle. I
look at things and wonder: How long will this last? Where did it
come from? Who made it? Who will take care of this item after I
finish using it? I think that one important way of connecting with
our world, both human and nonhuman, involves thinking through the
life cycles of the objects we use and the things we do. By keeping
this broader picture in mind, I try to walk softly in the world. I
strive to keep in mind that sustainability is not just about
leaving as much and as good, but about the effects my actions will
have on the opportunities available to my son’s and further
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
UB does a great job on a number of fronts, from increased
monitoring of our energy and material use to our extraordinary food
service program. The efforts of the office of sustainability have
made a marked effect on campus awareness of sustainability issues.
Perhaps equally important, that office has helped coordinate and
make us aware of all the efforts, successes, and offerings of UB in
the sustainability arena. Every year we see expanded course
offerings in environment and sustainability related areas,
evidenced by the strength of flourishing programs in environmental
studies, environmental science, environmental engineering, and the
new Sustainability academy. But we can always do more on all these
fronts. And we should. One first step would be to build a
sustainability module into the first year undergraduate experience,
either through inclusion in something akin to UB101, a stand alone
requirement, or something else in the curriculum.
I would like to see expanded transportation offerings, and
sustained efforts at reducing the practice of driving to campus. A
shuttle bus with a substantially more expansive route than the
Stampede would be great. This, coupled with NFTA bus passes and
expanded bicycle access should help provide viable alternatives to
driving to campus.
Learn more about Shockley's work.