By DAVID J. HILL
Published March 8, 2023
UB faculty member Susan Spierre Clark puts it simply: “More activism means more change.”
The change that Clark, assistant professor in the Department of Environment and Sustainability, College of Arts and Sciences, refers to is that which can mitigate the harmful effects of a warming climate. The activism part is a nod to what members of the UB community can do to be part of that change.
It’s that action and activism UB Sustainability seeks to acknowledge and reward with its annual SLICE (Sustainability, Leadership, Innovation and Collaborative Engagement) Awards. Nominations for this year’s awards are being accepted until the end of March. UB students, faculty and staff are eligible to be nominated in one of four categories:
Sustainability has handed out the awards each year since 2015, honoring recipients during an awards ceremony held as part of Sustainability Month in April. Visit the SLICE Awards website to make a nomination.
“The SLICE Awards are designed to recognize UB students, faculty, staff and departments whose efforts and leadership in climate action can inspire and mobilize the entire campus community,” says Laura Hubbard, vice president for finance and administration. “Each year, our SLICE Award recipients demonstrate that efforts large and small can really add up to make a difference.”
The awards honor outstanding individuals and departments that exhibit a sincere commitment to transforming UB’s campuses into a holistically sustainable community through the kinds of leadership, innovation and collaboration that demonstrate environmental stewardship, enhance social progress or promote responsible economic systems and growth.
Clark received the faculty award last year for her overall contributions to education, research and service related to sustainability, including her work with Erie County on its climate adaptation planning. In addition to her faculty role and research, Clark serves as director of the master’s in sustainability leadership program in the College of Arts and Sciences, and was part of the committee to develop a new PhD sustainability track in the Department of Environment and Sustainability.
“Being a SLICE Award recipient was really special to me,” Clark says. “It is one of the first times I have been recognized for the sustainability work I do, and it made me feel valued.”
Clark frequently involves students in her climate- and resilience-related research. She loves to see students’ enthusiasm for activism and hopes to see more UB faculty and staff contribute to climate action efforts as well.
“This activism is important to create change, both within and beyond our campus,” says Clark.
“It is all about understanding our impact on the world — in terms of consumption, pollution, etc. — and how we can each work to reduce that impact in a just way, both individually but also at a greater scale.”
That’s the aim of UB’s American Student Dental Association Sustainability Club, a 2021 SLICE Award recipient that was recognized for its collaboration and support of reduction, reuse and recycling of dental-specific equipment and supplies within the School of Dental Medicine’s clinics.
“Dentistry by nature is very wasteful. A lot of materials require individual packaging, and maintaining sanitation in the workplace inevitably creates excess waste,” explains Madelyn Ritter, a dental student who currently leads the Sustainability Committee along with Brianna Yusiewicz. “Dental offices exist across the world, so if we all agreed to even just one element of sustainability, it could make an immense impact,” Ritter says.
Most of the club’s ideas simply come from attending classes and seeing how students and faculty are using something, and then thinking about ways that product can be used in a more sustainable way. That includes projects like providing mask recycling bins and ensuring that products used in the school are made out of recycled materials whenever possible.
“We hope our practices at school inspire students to act similarly outside of the campus community,” Ritter adds.
It’s the kind of change that is urgently needed because humans are harming the natural resources on which we depend, says Clark.
“Activism within our community is also urgent to make people more aware of how issues like climate change are and will impact them and their community. Increased awareness leads to more sustainable decisions on an individual level, but can also lead to more systemic change if, for example, people vote for representatives that align with those sustainability goals and objectives.”