Sara Metcalf


Sara Metcalf, UB associate professor of geography, and daughter Alex.

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

Because the sustainability of human interactions with the environment is a central concern to the field of geography, I include discussions of sustainability in my courses on human geography, urban social geography, transportation, and dynamic modeling. Outside of the classroom, I have connected with colleagues across UB who share concerns about sustainability. For example, I am affiliated with the recently formed Institute of Sustainable Transportation and Logistics. I have also been pleased to hear about UB's forthcoming RENEW (Research & Education in eNergy, Environment, & Water) institute and hope to be involved with its realization.

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

My research agenda involves several modeling projects designed to address challenges to urban health and sustainability. In the realm of urban health, I am a currently co-PI of an NIH (OBSSR/NIDCR) R01 award that is using systems science to address oral health disparities among older adults in urban environments. My research on urban greening emphasizes the social fabric that facilitates cultivation of community resilience in the wake of external shocks. As part of a working group seeking to model human perception of risks associated with climate change, I am also exploring how community resilience can mitigate the severity of potential global warming scenarios. My research on urban sustainability has benefitted from a Civic Engagement and Public Policy research fellowship to work with the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP) in considering opportunities for urban agriculture in the local food system. MAP's innovative Growing Green urban youth farm operates at the nexus of social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

In my role as a faculty advisor, I have supported graduate student research on sustainability issues such as food access, brownfield redevelopment, and hurricane evacuation preparedness. Similarly, students in my courses have chosen to focus on sustainability topics such as environmental justice and urban farms in their term projects. Just as I try to expose students to the wide range of research conducted under the umbrella of sustainability science, I also benefit greatly from the diversity of student interests in and knowledge of sustainability problems.

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

My research on urban agriculture and the local food movement has impacted my personal life by exposing me to the benefits of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). For the past few years, I have been participating in the Wilson Street Urban Farm CSA program. As someone who doesn't particularly like to shop, I appreciate having the farmers (the Stevens family) decide what produce should be in each week's share based on the growing cycle and time of season. The food shares are provided in a bucket that is used to return food waste the following week for composting. My local plant knowledge has grown alongside my satisfaction with the abundance of fresh, healthy produce.

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

UB's commitment to sustainability is evidenced by its establishment of the Office of Sustainability, the associated awareness-building of its outreach, and the many different steps that have been taken to lower the ecological footprint of the institution. I expect that UB will continue to strengthen its existing sustainability initiatives in the coming years. I would encourage greater emphasis on issues of social justice as a necessary condition for the sustainability of our ecological and economic systems. As a premier research institution with a strong record on sustainability, UB is in an excellent position to foster an environment where people can freely discuss the challenges, successes, and contradictions we experience in the struggle to shift toward sustainability.

Learn more about Metcalf's research.