Ken Shockley


Ken Shockley, associate professor of philosophy and academic director of UB's sustainability academy, and his family.

We asked Ken Shockley, UB associate professor of philosophy and academic director of UB's sustainability academy, to tell us about his work in, and thoughts on sustainability.

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

First, my most significant contribution to sustainability at UB is through the new Sustainability Academy, which I direct. The academy provides a center for sustainability activities and initiatives not just for students in the academies, but also for the broader UB community. Second, much of my teaching is focused on environmental matters, or directly on sustainability. I endeavor to show students the interconnections between their core subjects, sustainability, and their everyday lives inside and outside the university. By looking at how our actions affect others, both now and in the future, I try to help students see the significance of integrating sustainability as a goal for their professional and personal lives. Finally, through the academy, through my teaching, and through my research, a good deal of my time is increasingly spent developing environmental and sustainability-related initiatives at UB.

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

My research focuses on environmental ethics and the translation of environmental values into policy. In both research and teaching my interests intersect with applied issues in policy analysis and environmental science. Recently much of my work has been focused on the ethical dimensions of climate change. In particular, I am interested in finding ways to balance economic and social development with the need to adapt to a changing world in an ethically acceptable manner. My present project investigates the troubling disconnect between personal experience and the reasons we invoke in public to justify environmental policy. I think that if we focus on the values people use in describing environmental problems and concerns to one another, we have a better chance of developing environmental policies that are both popular and capable of providing sustainable solutions.

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

Recently, through the sustainability academy, I launched an internship program (which is not limited to academies students) connecting UB students to the broader environmental community in western New York. The internship program allows students to see how a broad range of environmental and social considerations contribute to the development of policy and social initiatives. Aside from the internship programs, my teaching informs much of my work. In many of my classes I ask students to comment on recent environmental and sustainability issues in the news. The perspectives shared by students help me generate a broad set of examples of how the values held by individuals shape social views on environmental matters.

What is the one thing you would like people to know that you do in your personal life to further sustainability?

Sustainability requires that we view our actions through a wider lens. In my own life I try to see how the little things combine to form a big picture. In my family we try to remember that the little things add up. A little less meat, a little more exercise, a little more tolerance of inclement weather when I consider whether to ride my bike… all can lead to an improved, more sustainable life for us.

Most generally, I suppose, I try to make decisions keeping in mind the enlarged perspective available through this wider lens. The enlarged perspective asks us to see items, whether computers and cars or pencils and buildings in terms of their life cycle. I look at things and wonder: How long will this last? Where did it come from? Who made it? Who will take care of this item after I finish using it? I think that one important way of connecting with our world, both human and nonhuman, involves thinking through the life cycles of the objects we use and the things we do. By keeping this broader picture in mind, I try to walk softly in the world. I strive to keep in mind that sustainability is not just about leaving as much and as good, but about the effects my actions will have on the opportunities available to my son’s and further generations.

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

UB does a great job on a number of fronts, from increased monitoring of our energy and material use to our extraordinary food service program. The efforts of the office of sustainability have made a marked effect on campus awareness of sustainability issues. Perhaps equally important, that office has helped coordinate and make us aware of all the efforts, successes, and offerings of UB in the sustainability arena. Every year we see expanded course offerings in environment and sustainability related areas, evidenced by the strength of flourishing programs in environmental studies, environmental science, environmental engineering, and the new Sustainability academy. But we can always do more on all these fronts. And we should. One first step would be to build a sustainability module into the first year undergraduate experience, either through inclusion in something akin to UB101, a stand alone requirement, or something else in the curriculum.

I would like to see expanded transportation offerings, and sustained efforts at reducing the practice of driving to campus. A shuttle bus with a substantially more expansive route than the Stampede would be great. This, coupled with NFTA bus passes and expanded bicycle access should help provide viable alternatives to driving to campus. 

Learn more about Shockley's work.