Campus News

UB makes foray into carbon offsets by partnering with green-tech platform

Carbon offsets are a key component of UB's 10 in 10, the university's climate action plan.

By DAVID J. HILL

Published February 17, 2021

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headshot of Susan Clark.
“It is a way for the university to be more aware and accountable for the emissions that we generate, so that we can do something about it. ”
Susan Clark, assistant professor
Department of Environment and Sustainability

As UB zeroes in on reducing its carbon footprint — with a goal of becoming climate neutral by 2030 — the university has partnered with UCapture, a green-tech platform that funds carbon offsets and combats climate change.

UCapture is a free web browser extension that gets retailers to donate to carbon offset projects, selected by the shopper, whenever a buyer makes an online purchase from one of more than 30,000 participating sites, such as Target, Walmart, Booking.com, newegg and Microsoft.

Carbon offsets are a key component of the university’s climate action plan known as UB’s 10 in 10. While UB is working to advance climate neutrality in 10 key areas through a series of university-wide changes, individual action among members of the campus community is also needed. That’s where a tool like UCapture can help — just like turning off the lights whenever you leave a room.

It’s also a learning opportunity.

“Carbon offsets are new to our campus in general, so this is an educational tool as well to learn what an offset is, what it means. It’s a personal touch to learning about this,” says Derek Nichols, sustainability engagement coordinator for UB Sustainability.

The UB page on UCapture tracks the amount of carbon dioxide offset through UB community member purchases. To help UB go carbon neutral, visit www.ucapture.com/UB.

“UCapture is just one of the first steps toward a robust carbon offset program for UB,” says William McDonnell, UB’s associate vice provost for academic planning and chair of the carbon offset working group. “These offsets are an important tool in reducing emissions from our campus that we have less control over as we work towards decreasing our greenhouse gas production in totality.”

There are some greenhouse gas emissions that can’t be avoided at the university, adds committee member Susan Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Environment and Sustainability, College of Arts and Sciences.

“That’s where carbon offsets come in. They provide us more flexibility in achieving our emission-reduction goals. For example, to make up for the emissions generated by students traveling internationally to do impactful work, we can invest in tree-planting initiatives that help remove carbon from the atmosphere,” she says. “It is a way for the university to be more aware and accountable for the emissions that we generate, so that we can do something about it.”

UCapture’s free browser extension gets companies to donate part of a user’s purchase price toward the purchase of carbon offsets in UB’s name. UCapture’s partners make these carbon-offset donations as a form of “green marketing,” with users being able to select which verified carbon offset project they would like to support.

The browser extension, which can be installed on a variety of browsers including Chrome and Firefox, also automatically applies best available coupon codes when a shopper reaches the checkout page.

Avery Michaelson created UCapture in 2015 by applying his financial background toward helping institutions reduce their carbon footprint in a more economically friendly way than purchasing carbon offsets outright, which can be expensive.

“UCapture is the financial solution. It’s a business model for climate change and carbon offsets,” Michaelson says, adding that UCapture operates similarly to Honey, the browser extension that aggregates and automatically applies coupon codes on ecommerce sites.

“We’re Honey for the environment. I spotted an opportunity that this business model exists, but it hadn’t been purposed toward carbon offsets, which to me is one of the most elegant reward systems you could create from a consumption platform,” he says.

UCapture also offers students a better way to become engaged in their university’s sustainability efforts, says Mara Soo, the company’s head of university programs. “It’s a nice tool for the school, but the students get to be a part of it. Students can track the impact they’re having and talk to each other about it.”

The platform previously partnered with SUNY Purchase and is looking to spread to more SUNY campuses, Avery said.