UB goes for sustainability gold

Meghan Fay Zahniser, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), recognizes the University at Buffalo for its STARS Gold achievement.

Published September 25, 2015 This content is archived.

Meg Z.

Meghan Fay Zahniser, keynote speaker at Fall Harvest Luncheon

“UB’s designation as an AASHE STARS gold institution is an impressive accomplishment and demonstrates their commitment to sustainability leadership.”
Meghan Fay Zahniser, executive director
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education

UB is going for gold when it comes to being green.

With the submission of an exhaustive report outlining its sustainability efforts, UB has been certified “gold” as part of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS.

The STARS report allows colleges and universities across North America to use a common set of measurements to track their progress toward sustainability, see how they compare to their peers in higher education and help build proactive strategies for future work. The “gold” rating places UB among the top 1.6 percent of colleges and universities in North America. Of the more than 5,000 higher education institutions, only 81 have achieved the level of gold.

“This report demonstrates that UB has made great progress in the past three years moving from a STARS silver rating in November 2012 to a STARS gold rating with the submission of this report,” President Satish K. Tripathi said. “While taking pride in the achievement this designation represents, it also serves to motivate and inspire our campus community as we continue to work toward fulfilling our commitment to become climate neutral by 2030.”

It’s no coincidence that UB chose to submit its latest report on Sept. 17. AASHE Executive Director and UB alumna Meghan Fay Zahniser was the featured speaker at UB’s Fall Harvest Sustainability Luncheon that day. Zahniser visited campus to talk about sustainability trends and changes that have taken place in recent years.

“I am very proud of my alma mater for the progress they continue to make with integrating sustainability in the fabric of the university,” Zahniser said. “UB’s designation as an AASHE STARS gold institution is an impressive accomplishment and demonstrates their commitment to sustainability leadership.”

UB’s STARS report — totaling more than 260 pages — reflects the university’s commitment to continuously improving sustainability across university operations, teaching and research, and community engagement.

UB scores particularly high in the section of the report titled “Campus as a Living Laboratory.” In this section, UB outlines the many ways students are able to advance sustainability by taking advantage of learning and research opportunities using campus buildings and infrastructure, such as the Campus Garden, UB Solar Strand and the natural landscape of the campus itself.

For example:

  • Students leveraged the UB Campus Garden as a research project to demonstrate how small-scale permaculture can contribute to the food system in a campus setting. The students received a research grant to expand the campus garden’s output while maintaining its current square footage. The results of the project were shared in research symposiums at UB and across SUNY. 
  • More than 300 students researched how snowfall impacts energy generation by the UB Solar Strand and what strategies should be implemented if snow cover was impacting energy generation. Their results dispelled the myth that snow melts off the panels and showed that occasional snow cover does not significantly reduce the electricity generated by the Solar Strand. 
  • Students in professor Joseph Atkinson’s senior design course evaluated whether the Davis Hall bioswales were functioning as intended. Their project helped facilitate changes to existing bioswales to better manage groundwater on campus. 

In addition to these efforts, UB is positioning itself as a leader in sustainability through its Communities of Excellence. Three of the four Communities of Excellence touch on sustainability issues: RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water), Global Health Equity and Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART).

UB’s STARS report also points to several innovations the university has implemented within the past few years, especially within the realm of public engagement. For example, in the spring, UB unveiled a new interactive mobile app that guides visitors through the award-winning and nationally recognized Solar Strand. The app identifies local wildlife and shows in real time how much power the installation is generating, among other features.

The new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building now under construction in downtown Buffalo incorporates into its design an NFTA Metro station, as well as bridges that connect the building to nearby hospitals and other health care facilities.

In 2014, UB worked with Erie County officials and business leaders on the launch of the Sustainable Business Roundtable, which has grown to nearly 50 businesses ranging from mom-and-pop shops to multinational companies.

The STARS data, along with the work of the university’s Stewardship Council, will play a key role in creating an integrated and innovate sustainability strategy and plan that incorporates best practices from national peers.