Stephanie Rothenberg

Stephanie Rothenberg.

Stephanie Rotherberg, interdisciplinary artist and Associate Professor in the Department of Art.

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

People tend to just think about environmental issues when the word sustainability comes up but it's so much more than that. In the early 2000's when businesses took on the task of changing their economic models to become more sustainable you had the buzz phrase "people, planet, profit." I think profit and planet have gotten a lot more attention than people. When we speak about sustainability how does that impact people's lives? People who are underrepresented and might not have the resources to get their voices heard. People who might be suffering from environmental problems such as polluted air quality in their neighborhood, or unjust wages at their jobs that prevent them from having basic needs. Or lack of public transportation to get to the store/doctor/job. These issues all fall under the umbrella concept of sustainability. At UB I strive to help students understand the broader scope of these issues. And I recycle.

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

In my own research as an artist and designer I have been developing creative projects such as interactive games and public artworks that call attention to these social, economic and environmental injustices.

For example, I created an online game about the labor and environmental consequences of the global computer video game industry that informed players about toxic working conditions and electronic waste. Through more playful and less didactic experiences people are more receptive to learning about important issues. In this particular game, the classic arcade game "Dig Dug" was redesigned to be about coltan mining and "Beer Tapper" became an electronics sweatshop assembly line.

Last spring I co-organized a symposium at UB called "Performing Economies" that brought together a diverse group of people including UB faculty and students, artists, architects, urban planners, urban homesteaders, city officials, community groups, etc. Through panels, discussions, potlucks, east side and west side urban bus tours and performances, the symposium investigated how alternative economic models and cultural practices are impacting revitalization efforts in Buffalo.

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

Over the years my students in the Department of Art's Graphic Design concentration area have developed various visual campaigns to raise public campus awareness on sustainability initiatives for local non-profits, businesses and grass roots organizations. This introduces them to the local community for which many students know nothing about because most of them live around North Campus. Through these real world experiences students are able to develop a more ethical design practice while honing their design skills and learning about the realities of working with actual clients!

What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?
I think it's easy to get overwhelmed by the enormity of our current political, economic and environmental problems and feel helpless and not take action. But every step towards positive change counts. And the best possible route for affecting positive change is to partner with organizations working on campaigns you believe in. Even helping one day a month or a few times a year makes a difference. Even though I sound like Winnie the Pooh I believe it!

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

In terms of the triad I previously mentioned, its apparent UB is leading in sustainable design innovations that are cost effective and friendlier to the environment. Yet UB is lacking in its efforts to create more sustainable conditions for students and teachers. Tuition hikes and precarious adjunct labor conditions are some examples. Both are national issues but with UB being a flagship state university it could take more of a lead in helping to change the status quo.

Learn more about Stephanie's work: