Students' Environmental Audit Produces Blueprint For Campus Discussion, Action

Release Date: February 27, 1996 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- They were the most unusual band of auditors to ever visit the University at Buffalo.

They hitched rides on campus garbage and recycling trucks in the pre-dawn hours. They inspected the insides of campus kitchens. They got to know campus recycling bins up close and personal. And they spent hours interviewing maintenance and grounds staff.

The auditors were environmental-studies students who spent a semester taking stock of all of the ways that UB's two campuses affect the environment.

The 24,000-word "Environmental Audit" produced by them concluded that while UB has take innovative steps toward reducing its impact on the environment, there is more that can be done.

They gave the university high points for the more than 300 energy-saving projects that have produced an annual savings of more than $3.5 million, campus-wide efforts that increased five-fold the percentage of paper recycled annually between 1993 and 1995 and efforts by students living in residence halls that result in some 121,000 pounds of paper, glass, metal and plastic being recycled each year.

Addressing areas needing improvement, the audit recommended that 100 percent, unbleached recycled paper be used for all university business and in library copy machines, naturalizing UB's North Campus to reduce grass-cutting, and imposing a moratorium on construction of new parking lots.

The audit has been presented to President William R. Greiner and Provost Thomas E. Headrick.

Greiner has referred it to the UB Environmental Task Force (ETF), composed of faculty, staff and students interested in environmental issues at the university, and charged the group with using the audit to convene a campus-wide discussion of UB's environmental and conservation goals.

"The task force is very excited about the results of the audit and intends to try to implement as many of its recommendations as possible," said Joseph A. Gardella, Jr., Ph.D., a professor of chemistry who serves as its chair.

Gardella praised the students and their work.

"The audit highlights success stories like UB's energy-conservation program, its recycling program and its reduction of solid waste," he noted. "At the same time, it identifies areas we're already working on, like the rideshare program in which we are collaborating with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, and new areas to focus on, such as increasing recycling of food-service materials, further reductions in the use of hazardous materials and improving safety training."

Students at UB are working on independent study projects designed to supplement the work of the ETF in trying to achieve some of the audit's recommendations.

"The audit should be used as a benchmark," said Julie Barrett, a 1995 graduate who edited the audit and who plans to pursue a master's degree in urban and regional planning. "Until now, nothing had been done to document the impact of this university on its environment."

Students took a practical approach and divided their task into specific areas, including solid and hazardous waste, energy, food, water, campus design and growth, transportation, environmental literacy, environmental education, career development, research, state procurement and investment policies.

The audit is the culmination of "Local Environmental Problems," an upper-level environmental studies course the students initiated and developed to address what they saw as a lack of hands-on opportunities in the curriculum.

"We proposed our idea to the department and they opened the course within a day," said Barrett.

It was taught without compensation by Claude E. Welch, Jr., Ph.D., Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Walter Simpson, the university's energy officer.

"This audit has a strong potential policy role on campus," explained Welch.

"The students have categorized their recommendations as short-, middle- and long-term and that will be very helpful to senior administrators."

An important finding, according to Barrett, was that additional recycling efforts could result in savings to the university.

"Being an environmentalist doesn't mean being extravagant," she noted. "In fact, it can mean major savings. It's becoming more and more expensive to throw things away."

For example, the report states that recycling 50 percent of waste stream materials by 2000 would result in a projected savings of $75,000 per year.

The report describes the current environmental impact for each area and then recommends ways to recycle and reduce.

The audit also takes note of important environmental-research programs on campus, such as the New York State Center for Hazardous Waste Management and the Great Lakes Program.

In addition to recommending changes in campus operations and policies, the report also suggests ways to increase the environmental literacy of all students by requiring a survey course on ecological problems, developing an in-house faculty training program on environmental literacy and working with other local institutions to share progress in environmental research and education.

Other recommendations include ways to improve job prospects for environmental-studies majors, an important feature since, as the report notes, the number of environmental studies majors at UB jumped from 69 students in 1990 to 181 in 1994.

Several authors of the report are now pursuing graduate studies in environmental fields or are working at environmental companies or organizations.

"It should be possible for all students to learn to bring environmental responsibility to their jobs, regardless of what career they choose," Barrett stressed. "If you're a banker, you can start a recycling program. If you're an engineer, you can look at an environmental impact statement not as a hurdle, but as a tool."

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