Trina Hamilton


Trina Hamilton, UB associate professor of geography, and her daughter, Adele, at Tifft Nature Preserve.

We asked Trina Hamilton, UB assistant professor of geography, to tell us about her work in, and thoughts on sustainability.

What are you doing to help UB become more sustainable?

The first thing is that I try to introduce sustainability concepts in each of my courses. Even though I primarily teach courses on the global economy and international trade, I introduce students to issues of corporate social and environmental responsibility, trade-related sustainability issues, and cross-national differences in environmental values and regulations. I also make it a point to introduce students (in my classes and in guest lectures for other courses) to possible careers in the sustainability field, particularly around issues of corporate responsibility and global governance. Secondly, I have been involved in several administrative initiatives related to UB’s institutional sustainability goals, including participating on the UB Environmental Stewardship Subcommittee on Research, Teaching and Public Service, and the newly formed Committee for Socially Responsible Investment.

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

In general, my research focuses on issues of corporate responsibility, international trade, and sustainability politics.  I have two current research projects directly focused on sustainability issues. The first is an ongoing study in Brooklyn of efforts to clean up Newtown Creek and its vicinity following decades of heavy industrial use and revelations of a massive underground oil plume. My research with a colleague at DePaul University is focused on long-term residents’ cultivation of partnerships with outside environmental groups and neighborhood newcomers (primarily from public policy circles and creative industries) to tackling both gentrification and environmental health issues.  There appears to be an exciting new sustainability ethic taking shape in this part of Brooklyn that marries environmental cleanup with the redevelopment of a working waterfront. This ethic is being carried out through ongoing activism and policy-making, including a cleanup settlement with Exxon Mobil, and has the potential to add to current debates about the missing social justice link in many contemporary urban sustainability policies.

My second sustainability-related research project is focused on the ethical diamond industry. The goal of this project is to trace how retailers’, consumers’, and other stakeholders’ ethical imaginaries have shifted over time.  In other words, how do we define ethical diamonds, and how do we imagine and create so-called “ethical” production spaces in different parts of the world?

How are students involved in your sustainability work?

I have had several graduate and undergraduate research assistants on each of my research projects. They have been involved in many aspects of the research, including transcribing interviews with stakeholders engaged in sustainability battles and policy-making, and doing content analysis of policy documents and retailer websites to understand how sustainability issues are framed by different constituents. Overall, I think the students involved have gained an appreciation for the complexity of sustainability politics, and for the often competing priorities of different stakeholder groups.

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

Well, I’m far from a perfect model of sustainability, but I think that my research has made me a much more conscientious consumer. This extends beyond trying to make my money do “good” to trying to consume less, to really thinking through purchases and extending the cycle of planned obsolescence (i.e. products being designed to fail or at least be quickly outdated so we’ll buy the next version) as long as possible. That said, I’m not above an impulse purchase in the check-out line, particularly if it involves chocolate…

How could UB improve its sustainability efforts?

I’d love to see an extension of UB’s composting efforts to allow for more post-consumer composting of food and take-out containers. While it’s easy to recycle paper waste and I know UB’s been a leader in composting kitchen scraps and even post-consumer waste in some facilities, I still feel a twinge of guilt every time I buy lunch and have to toss the take-away container or any leftover food.  

Learn more about Hamilton's research.