Published April 4, 2022
Sustainability is all about partnerships. It’s not up to one unit, or a few individuals, especially within the context of higher education.
Partnerships are a vital part of Sustainability Month at UB, and many of the signature events occurring across campus throughout April reflect the growing partnerships being built as the university strives toward implementation of its recently updated climate action plan and achieving climate neutrality by 2030.
“Our sustainability strategy is built around partnerships and trying to provide capacity and expertise to other units that are advancing this work,” says Ryan McPherson, UB’s chief sustainability officer, adding that UB Sustainability is “always looking for partners.”
This year’s events are also designed to cover three overarching themes: collective responsibility, professional pathways, and mental health and well-being.
Two of the bigger ticket events for Sustainability Month are an outgrowth of a budding partnership between Sustainability and the Office of Inclusive Excellence. In the vein of OIX’s successful “Difficult Conversations,” or DIFCON, series, Sustainability Month will feature two Difficult Conversations events: one on April 7 on climate action and some of the tensions embedded within this work, and another on Earth Day (April 22) on the prioritization and sacrifices that will be needed by the entire campus community in order to achieve climate neutrality.
The April 7 DIFCON talk will feature a panel of faculty, staff and students discussing urgency versus equity in fighting climate change, says Derek Nichols, associate director for sustainability, who has been working with Jared Strohl, OIX diversity project coordinator, on ways to further integrate racial and environmental justice into the President’s Advisory Council on Race. Panelists include Kim Diana Connolly, School of Law; Sameer Honwad, Graduate School of Education; Jon Hulbert, Organizational Development and Effectiveness; and Elizabeth Thomas, College of Arts and Sciences.
The second DIFCON, set for 9-10:30 a.m. April 22 in the Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre, is titled “A Difficult Climate Conversation: Coming Together as a Campus to Achieve Climate Neutrality.” Speakers include Laura Hubbard, Finance and Administration; Chris Austin, Parking and Transportation; Mark Coldren, Human Resources; Beth Corry, Business Services; Christina Hernandez, Student Life; and Tonga Pham, University Facilities.
UB’s climate action plan CAPtains will provide highlights of what systems change is occurring across the academy, followed by a series of interactive questions meant to take the pulse of each unit’s and individual’s appetite for change. The session will then provide group time for each area to reflect on, and commit to, actions they can collectively take to decrease their greenhouse gas impact here at UB.
“With this DIFCON, we’re pulling back the veil a little bit and talking openly about some of the tensions that exist and what everyone can do to impact the campus footprint,” Nichols says.
Another partnership that’s been developed is with the Career Design Center, which is teaming up with UB Sustainability for a series of three opportunities for students to engage with and gain insights into the sustainability field.
The first is a 75-minute panel discussion — “How I got Started in Sustainability” — that aims to introduce future change-makers to a range of sustainability professions, while offering an opportunity for students to hear from experts in a variety of different industries. The panel will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. April 5 in the Landmark Room, 210 Student Union.
The second event is billed as a sustainability-in-residence-type program that will provide students a smaller group setting in which to get to know practitioners in the field. “For this program, we’ll have professional mentors on hand to answer specific questions from students on job-readiness, important skills to have and career advice,” says Nichols. The residency will take place April 13-14 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Career Design Center, 259 Capen Hall.
“Sustainability touches every facet of our lives, including many industries, employment opportunities and runs through all six career communities,” says Alissa Drag, employer and alumni partner consultant, Career Design Center.
“It only seemed natural to join with UB Sustainability to offer students the opportunity to explore how their values and interests in sustainability can result in real professional job and internship opportunities. Together, we hope to increase awareness of sustainability professions — this is just the beginning.”
The third and final event is a networking opportunity at the new GRoW Clean Energy Center from 4-6 p.m. April 27.
For today’s college students, fears about the future of the planet as a result of climate change are very real. For example, a survey of 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25, led by Bath University in collaboration with five other universities, found that three-quarters of respondents said they thought the future was frightening. Over half (56%) said they think humanity is doomed and four out of 10 are hesitant to have children because of climate change.
Some have dubbed these feelings of hopelessness “eco-anxiety.”
To assist students in taking a mental break from these concerns, UB Sustainability has partnered with Health Promotion, as well as Accessibility Services, to offer three sustainability themed sessions of Health Promotion’s Drop-In Meditation group, which focuses on fundamentals of mindfulness and meditation. Participants can attend any or all of the sessions, which run from 3-4 p.m. April 8, 15 and 22 in the Student Union and on Zoom. A South Campus date is also planned.
UB Sustainability also plans to post some environment-oriented guided meditations on its website.
A smorgasbord of additional events sponsored by various schools and other units are also planned throughout April, again a reflection of the bridges being built among partners on campus. For a full listing, visit the UB Sustainability Month calendar.
“A lot of our partners really take these events and run with them,” says Nichols. “All of these events are built on partnerships. That’s how we become sustainable.”