We asked John Atkinson, UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, to tell us about his work in, and thoughts on sustainability.
What kinds of sustainability related research/projects do you pursue at UB?
My group focuses on improving the ways we control air and water pollutants, specifically by adsorption. We take a materials science and engineering approach, physically and chemically tailoring adsorbents such that performance improves, costs decrease, and/or environmental protection increases. We prepare new materials, develop appropriate characterization procedures, and then apply these materials in industrially relevant applications. Consistent with these efforts, I am also the director of a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates site called “Environmental Engineering Solutions for Pollution Prevention,” which includes a significant sustainability education and research component. Thanks to UB Sustainability for their annual UB Green Tour for program participants! Learn more at buffalo.edu/reu.
In the wider Buffalo community, I am the education chair for the Air & Waste Management Association’s Niagara Frontier Section as well as the faculty advisor for the group’s UB student chapter. I also collaborate on the Green Window City project, which is an Earth Day art walk that tasks local artists with preparing storefront window displays exclusively out of waste - encouraging the WNY community to “Rethink Junk!”.
How are students involved in your sustainability work?
In addition to collaboration with my graduate students, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to teach CSEE’s Sustainability course (CIE 447). My goal with this course is to get students thinking sustainably. No engineering student, let alone an environmental engineering student, should graduate without understanding important sustainability concepts - ethics, life cycle analyses, energy sources and impacts, and climate change. This is not academic content that can be learned or memorized, it is a lifestyle mindset that should be practiced and valued. I encourage all interested students, even if not environmental engineers, to contact me (AtkJDW@buffalo.edu) about taking the class…it is a good one!!!
As a component of CIE 447, I created the #447challenge. The voluntary assignment asks students to document their instructor-curated sustainability efforts using Twitter. Weekly challenges (e.g., #nomeatweek, #wasteLESSweek, #shortshowers, and #emissionLESS) highlight the effort that is required to live a sustainable lifestyle. Some challenges are hard; some are easy - that is the point! Students Tweet photos or messages describing their participation, for the class, campus, city, and global sustainability community to see - enrolled students and myself operate as sustainability role models and educators. Follow me @AirQME to learn more about the project, and feel free to join in!
What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?
Driving less! I live downtown and am living proof that it is possible (and even, dare I say, pleasant) to take the train/bus ALL the way to North Campus. I ride my scooter almost a mile to the train, take a short nap during the ride, and then hop on the Stampede bus to North campus. When I do drive, I use an electric vehicle and take advantage of UB’s (free!) electric vehicle chargers.
How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?
Even with three distinct campuses separated by almost 10 miles and a downtown Buffalo that people want to live in, I don’t see UB encouraging students/staff/faculty to use public transportation. There is an easy solution to UB North’s parking problems…don’t drive! (Note that I DON’T think the “easy” solution is building a 7 story parking garage monstrosity.) This should be supported by the University…exponentially increase the cost of parking passes (for faculty/staff), collaborate with NFTA to provide free/discounted train passes, add more Stampede busses (especially during winter/summer break), etc. My dream would be for the Metro Rail to reach North Campus - hopefully I’ll see it someday.