campus news

UB celebrates Earth Day with climate action update

Sustainability concept featuring raised hands with a leaf icon in the center of the palms, all in shades of green.


Published April 22, 2024

“Our university has shown a streak of radical pragmatic idealism, and we are not only ready, but are leading. And we are leading because of you. ”
Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer

All in.

That’s what it will take for UB to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

That message of collective action will also be on full display in the Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre this morning, where more than 200 representatives from every decanal and administrative unit on campus will gather for the university’s fifth Climate Action Plan update.

It’s a celebration not only of the fact that today is Earth Day, but also the momentum the campus community has built in recent years to advance UB’s climate action work (This short video features a few key examples).

“Our university has shown a streak of radical pragmatic idealism, and we are not only ready, but are leading. And we are leading because of you,” says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer. “Whether we’re facing a pandemic, climate-induced extreme weather, the rise of artificial intelligence, democracy under threat, or conflicts across the globe, you are making the necessary changes and building the world we seek every day.”

Over the past year, some of that work has taken place in very visible ways, such as the completed renovation of Crosby Hall on the South Campus, and the nearly completed renovation of Foster Hall, both of which have been converted into low-carbon buildings that are powered, cooled and heated by renewable energy.

A group of people hold larg placcards overhead with icons representing various aspects of UB's Climaten Action Plan.

UB staff and administrators celebrate the university's progress toward carbon neutrality at last year's Climate Action Plan update. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Much is happening behind the scenes, too. For example, as part of the university’s decarbonization strategy for the South Campus, water-cooled heat pumps were installed in both Crosby and Foster. And work has begun on planning for the phasing out of natural gas and decarbonization for the North Campus, notes Tonga Pham, associate vice president, University Facilities.

In addition, UB is transitioning nearly half of its Stampede buses to battery-powered electric vehicles, which will decrease the university’s diesel fuel consumption to the tune of 70,000 gallons, according to Chris Austin, director, Parking and Transportation Services.

Construction will soon get underway on a new fleet electric-vehicle charging lot that will have enough capacity to charge more than 50 vehicles at once with a bank of Level 2 and 3 chargers. This complements the electric-vehicle chargers already available to student, staff and faculty commuters. Much of this work has and will be funded through the creation of a new recurring Climate Action Fund as part of UB’s budget process.

On the zero-waste front, UB has conducted a campuswide waste audit to get a better perspective on where its opportunities lie, and is nearing the completion of its strategic plan to achieve a 90% diversion of waste from landfill and incineration. In addition, the university will be investing in a state-of-the-art collection infrastructure, with a focus on a circular system. UB is also working to implement the new SUNY policy eliminating single-use plastics, which UB helped craft.

Through a partnership with Campus Dining and Shops, UB is providing carbon footprint ratings on ingredients used in foods served on campus, in addition to noting those that are vegetarian and vegan. Emissions from food represent 25% of UB’s carbon footprint.

UB is also working to electronically capture carbon emissions associated with university employee travel, according to Beth Corry, associate vice president and controller for business services.

While much of UB’s climate action work has relied heavily on the campus community, the university has also been working closely with Second Nature, the national climate action higher education organization.

Late last year, Second Nature awarded UB a Catalyst Grant to fund projects designated to advance climate justice, spark decarbonization and build climate resilience between the university and the community. This work is supporting a series of workshops and dialogues that will engage young people both on and off campus in prioritizing climate action efforts with faculty at the university. 

And soon, UB will begin receiving pro-bono consulting services from Brailsford and Dunlavey — one of the top higher education decarbonization firms in the country — to better help the university develop detailed and specific goals pegged to definitive timelines that will provide clear budgetary implications across all emission streams at UB. The university was selected through a competitive application process to receive these services.

In addition, the consulting work will help UB develop a detailed decarbonization and monitoring system that dials in the university’s climate neutrality efforts.

“While we have made strong progress over the past few years, we have more work to do, and by leveraging outside expertise we are confident it will complement and propel our existing efforts into a detailed and impactful roadmap that can not only be effectively communicated to stakeholders but provide the next critical step in advancing UB’s climate neutrality work,” says Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration.