Sustainability Blog

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 15:24

I have encountered various statistical sources who have claimed that between thirty and forty percent of food produced annually across the country is lost or wasted. This is undoubtedly enough to feed the millions of people who experience food insecurity and go to bed each night with an empty stomach. Not only is this phenomenal waste a concern for the hungry, the problem is compounded by the fact that our food waste occupies an outrageous amount of space in landfills and the methane produced by its decomposition has been said to be considerably worse, in terms of its effect on climate change, than an equal amount of carbon dioxide.

To begin the necessary transition to a zero-waste society we must begin by considering the amount of waste generated to begin with. Where does all of this food come from, and why is it wasted? In some instances it is due to industrial issues such as improper refrigeration or lack of storage space. But the goal of this post is to pinpoint consumer issues, things that you and I can change in our daily routines that can make a profound impact.

Educating ourselves, as well as others, is the first step towards zero-waste. We can begin by addressing the most preventable form of waste, excess food. Trying to set up a meal plan regimen can help you and your family limit the amount of food purchased each week, and therefore restrict the amount of possible waste brought into your home. If you go out to eat, order sensibly, and take home any leftovers instead of discarding them. If you don’t have the space to store leftovers, give them to a friend or contact an organization like WasteNotWantNot of Buffalo, who collect food from around the city and hold free food-shares for the homeless and hungry. Composting is another great way to deal with excess food around the home. You can easily build a compost bin for your backyard which, with the proper care, will provide you with an amendment you can add to your garden to replenish the nutrients in the soil.

An ideal example of a zero-waste lifestyle can be found in Lauren Singer, a NYC resident who has lived so sustainably for the past four years that the amount of garbage she has produced in that time can fit into a single 16 oz mason jar! I will link to her blog at the bottom of my post, and I encourage you to watch some of her videos for more information about how she has accomplished such an incredible feat. The packaging that our food comes in, which is often times plastic (and therefore not biodegradable) is largely unnecessary, as Singer made apparent in her lifestyle change. We all must ask ourselves a question of what we find more important, the convenience of a plastic bag or the future of our planet?

A great investment for both your wallet and the environment is to purchase reusable containers for your food and beverages. Forget plastics, which may contain harmful chemicals and look into sustainable containers made of stainless steel, glass, or wood. Organic cotton napkins can be used in place of harmful and wasteful plastic bags to store food in the fridge, or to bring with you for lunch. Drawing from Singer’s example, we can find countless methods of purchasing food and other home necessities in bulk and storing them in reusable containers. For more information on how to do so, see the link to Singer’s blog below.

As the semester goes on I will be writing more about zero-waste efforts across our campus and throughout the country, so please stay tuned and email me with any ideas you may have. Until then, please check out the links below!

-Eric Shaver
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club

Relevant Links: (Lauren Singer)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017 - 16:22

The Anthropocene is a proposed geological epoch characterized by the dawning of significant human impact on the Earth, its climate and its ecosystems. To some, it began during the industrial revolution with the invention of machine technology and eventually the use of fossil fuels. Others believe that humans began drastically altering the ecosystems of our planet centuries ago by decimating large swaths of forest in Europe for use in building materials, paper, tools and much more. Debate over the reality of the Anthropocene centers not on when it began, but rather whether or not it is happening to begin with. Climate change deniers often boast a certain sense of prometheanism, the idea that earth’s resources are primarily used to fulfill human needs, and some go as far to say that we are entitled to an exploitation of these resources. I’m not here to tell you that we are not. That is an argument best saved for philosophy and this is not the forum for such discussion. But given today’s political climate, I do find it integral to our relationship to each other and to society as a whole, that we keep discussions of environmental conservation relevant.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in their Fifth Assessment Report, released in 2014, have made it abundantly clear that “the Earth’s climate system is warming steadily,” and that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century (Caradonna, 2014). Despite the amount of data that has been presented, conflicts of interest have prevented large scale social changes to be implemented in many parts of the world, leaving people feeling helpless about our current situation.

So what can we do to make a difference in a world so tied up in capital and political discourse that it cannot be bothered with its own longevity? While environmentalism may seem to be a partisan issue in Washington, the majority of Americans support efforts to ensure the safety of our water, air, land and climate. Much like the industrial revolution may have been the tipping point in ushering in the Anthropocene, we can begin to usher it out by thinking critically about the way we view the world, and by taking into consideration how our everyday actions affect the environment we live in. In this way, we can begin an environmental revolution.

In working for UB Campus Dining and Shops I have been granted the unique responsibility of taking a look at our campus dining procedures with environmental concerns as a priority. Now, I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and tell my readers to stop eating meat (although cattle production alone is estimated to contribute 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions), that is a decision that you can all come to on your own. But I would like to highlight an upcoming event that may put some of our food culture into perspective. On Sunday, February 19th I will be gathering food waste from the river system at The Crossroads Culinary Center (C3), and weighing it. The following night I will be weighing C3’s waste again, and I will provide a visual representation of the two nights in an attempt to motivate students to take reasonable portions and to consider the amount of waste they are producing at UB.

The University at Buffalo is taking great strides in the effort to be a leader in sustainability and to limit our environmental impact. From cutting our carbon emissions, to buying locally grown foods, and an impressive composting program which utilizes much of the waste that we cannot prevent, there are many reasons why being a member of the UB community is something to be proud of. For more information on how to get involved, check out the links below, and email me with any questions!

-Eric Shaver
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club

Relevant Links:
-Caradonna, Jeremy L. Sustainability: A History. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.

Thursday, December 1, 2016 - 15:40

The holiday season is upon us once again. With Thanksgiving now a week behind us, it's becoming appropriate for many families to begin the process of decorating their houses, shopping for gifts and preparing for holiday meals. The atmosphere at this time of the year can become intoxicating, but it is important that we continue to acknowledge our impact on the environment, despite the distraction of our traditions. Global warming is still a concern, regardless of which design coffee shops choose for their cups. With the help of contributors to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) blog, here are some tips for a sustainable holiday.

First, let’s talk decorations. For many, the concept of decorating becomes relevant after Thanksgiving, and already I have noticed strings of lights, dazzling projectors, and fifteen-foot inflatable abominable snowmen popping up across my neighborhood. Although these displays often look fantastic and contribute to the nostalgic haze of the holiday season, there are things that we can change that won’t diminish the spirit, but will reduce the environmental impact of the buzzing month of December.

The internet is bursting with interesting DIY holiday decorations that can be constructed easily and inexpensively, and these are a fun and entertaining way to bring family and friends together. But if you do choose to purchase decorations, consider both the energy consumption and the longevity of the product. LED lights use less energy, and last much longer than traditional holiday lights. Also, be sure to turn off the display during daylight hours, and after everyone goes to sleep. You can pick up a timer for this purpose while you're at the hardware store scoping out the next inflatable for your collection.

As an interesting side note for those innovative UB engineers out there, I’ve come across a few sustainability projects taken on by other American universities I’d like to share. Appalachian State University in North Carolina used photovoltaics to harness solar energy to illuminate a pine tree on their campus and the Technical College of Lowcountry in South Carolina used tidal power to power the LED lights on their tree. Yeshiva University in New York used a turbine and battery setup to store wind energy in order to light the fluorescent bulbs on the top of their four foot menorah! Perhaps we can develop something at UB to showcase our sustainability efforts alongside our holiday spirit (nudge nudge).

Next, when thinking about purchasing gifts there are a few things you should keep in mind in order to limit your environmental impact. First, when wrapping gifts, try using newspaper or a reusable cloth. According to an AASHE blog post, if every American family decided to wrap three of their presents in re-used material it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields! In addition, try skipping material gifts all together. Considerate gifts like event tickets, camping trips and other vacations, gift certificates and music or dance lessons often mean more to friends and family than material doodads that get tossed in the corner. Environmentally and socially conscious gifts such as adopting an endangered animal, buying fair-trade goods or donating to organizations such as Heifer International who provide animals and resources to families in subsistence communities serve to spread the love that the holiday season is all about. Links to sites for such gifts can be found at the bottom of this article.

Switch up the tradition by filling stockings with nuts and fruit instead of plastic junk that often ends up in the trash by the New Year. If you are insistent on a material gift keep an eye out for energy efficient appliances and electronics. If you happen to get a gift that you really won't use or something that you already have, donate it to a charity shop and make a less fortunate person’s holiday season a little brighter.
Finally, if you find yourself in a position where you cannot spend the holiday season with your family, consider sending e-cards instead of paper ones. If you’re sending love to a member of the family who is less tech-savvy, perhaps use cards made of recycled paper, or postcards instead of envelopes to cut back on waste. Another statistic from the aforementioned AASHE blog post may drive this notion home. If you were to stack the 2.65 billion holiday cards sent by American families alone, you could cover an entire football field ten feet high!

As the fall semester winds down and winter vacation approaches we all undoubtedly have a lot on our minds but I hope we can all take these tips into consideration and remain open to adjusting our traditional activities to suit a changing world so that generations to come can continue to partake in the activities of this beautiful season. With that being said, I wish 2016 graduates good luck in their future endeavors and each and every one of you a safe and happy holiday season!

Eric Shaver
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In Progress)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 11:53

The university culture is changing. It wasn’t long ago that the idea of bringing a beverage into a lecture hall was practically unthinkable. Now, students are struggling to make it through a single class without something to drink, and bottles of water and soda can be found on nearly every desk. Apparently, academia has become increasingly dehydrating over the years. Here at UB, we take pride in the fact that we are seriously initiating a sustainability movement and perhaps it is time we fully consider the implications of this change in culture.
Thirty years ago, bottling water hardly existed as a business in the United States. What ever did thirsty students, office workers, and athletes use to meet their hydration needs? All sarcasm aside, it has become clear to me that the increasing consumption of bottled water across the country does not directly reflect the necessity of water that we all share, but rather the desire for a convenience that we have grown accustomed to. This desire translates to the shipment of one billion bottles of water a week in the United States alone. To make matters worse, these bottles are often carelessly tossed out after a single use, contributing to the nearly 750 million pounds of solid waste added to American landfills per-day. Depending on the type of plastic, these bottles may take up to a thousand years to decompose, and during that process they leak harmful substances into the environment.
We must ask ourselves a serious question, is the convenience worth it? When you walk out of a store with a bottle of water you are paying, on average, nearly three thousand times what you would pay for that water through your home tap. It is somewhat embarrassing to come to the realization that many bottled water companies are simply purchasing and bottling municipal water supplies and selling them back to the public with pictures of mountains and crystal clear lakes on the labels, procuring a false sense of the purity and origin of their product. Why not refill your plastic bottle at the fountain? Anyone who has ever attempted the awkward re-positioning required to fill (only about half of) a water bottle from a drinking fountain knows that this does not meet the American convenience standard…
This brings us to one of the ways the UB has attempted to balance this shift in culture, and offers us a platform to begin with when considering what we can do as a community. Across campus you will find resources that are actively leading to a decrease in the university’s solid waste. In order to reduce the amount of plastic bottles purchased on campus many water fountains, including those in Knox, NSC, Silverman Library and the Student Union, have been fitted with refill stations. At these fountains, a sensor activates a tap system that allows you to fill your bottle from above, eliminating the hassle of refilling a bottle from the standard fountain system. Then, whatever plastic bottles do make their way onto campus can be recycled at a number of reverse vending machines, which take your bottles in for recycling and print out a deposit slip that can redeemed at campus dining centers. These reverse vending machines can be found in Greiner, Knox, Capen, Governors, Goodyear, Harriman and the Ellicott Food Court.
In order to combat the commodification of a virtually free resource, and to diminish the environmental consequences of creating plastic bottles, many universities have opted to ban the plastic water bottle entirely. The main issue that has come to my attention is that with water bottles taken off the shelf, there is an increase in the consumption of other bottled, and more sugary beverages, such as sports drinks and sodas. Perhaps a complete ban is not the first step we should take here at UB, but instead we should work on changing the perception of the plastic bottle throughout the UB community. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) has implemented programs that we should take note on if we are hoping to do so.
At UNLV a five cent surcharge has been added to the purchase of single use plastic bottles which is used to fund the installation of hydration stations across campus. Since 2014, over $1,400 has been raised and two hydration stations have been built. In addition, students can turn in ten recyclable bottles in exchange for a reusable bottle to use at the stations. Both of these programs could easily be done here at UB and would have a profound impact on our solid waste. In addition, we need to work together to change the culture, within our university and beyond. If you see a friend toss a plastic bottle into the landfill bin, bring the issue to their attention and get that bottle recycled.
If you would like to see some of these programs develop at UB, or have additional ideas to reduce our plastic waste, or to help bring awareness to what we are currently doing, please e-mail me. Together Campus Dining and Shops, UB Sustainability and the many other environmentally conscious organizations on campus can make a serious impact on the future of our planet. I hope to hear from you soon!

-Eric Shaver
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Vice President UB Campus Garden Club
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)

Thursday, November 17, 2016 - 13:23

If you spent any time on campus this past summer you may have noticed a little more green than usual near the Lee Road traffic circle. Adjacent to Greiner Hall, in the field where disc golf enthusiasts can play a round overlooking Lake LaSalle, tremendous progress was made on a sustainability project thanks to volunteers in the UB Campus Garden Club. On the 20'x20' plot of land allotted to the organization you could find sizable shoots of asparagus, bulbous eggplants, ripe melons, a colorful display of rainbow chard, and a variety of peppers, including a pair of hot pepper plants grown from seeds harvested from Aleppo, Syria that were graciously donated by Janice Cochran of Wellness and Education Services.

Hard work and diligence led the Garden Crew to a successful yield this autumn, despite a noticeable lack of water during a record-breaking dry summer. The club intends to be better prepared for such weather going into the 2017 growing season, and they believe they will be with help from another UB organization, Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW). As part of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) competition, the ESW parks project is beginning to develop a structure that will showcase the engineering skills of a group of devoted and intelligent students, as well as provide the garden with a number of new features.

The project, which has been spearheaded by four ESW members, Austin Izzo, Alec Ruby, Austin Reese, and Mark Geraci, focuses on providing a portable and functional community learning space that will engage students and faculty with the concept of sustainability and the garden. The planned construction would offer the garden crew a work and storage space, and the roof area has been maximized to allow for the collection of rainwater so that the club will have an additional source of water to ensure a healthy crop. A clear roof and a lattice have been proposed, which would allow for a variety of plants to be grown in and off of their creation. Due to the portability of the pavilion structure, there is opportunity for the two clubs to continue to collaborate on similar designs in the future as the garden club works to expand to additional locations on campus.

The club has come a long way since its inception nearly a year ago. Started by a small group of environmentally conscious students as a project to rejuvenate an abandoned green space and teach students about the joys and processes involved with urban gardening, the club continues to grow and you can be updated on their developments in a pair of newsletters. One, specifically for club members, announces upcoming events and outlines meeting minutes and is distributed weekly to nearly sixty individuals. The second, titled 'The Friends of The Garden Newsletter,' goes out once a month to around three hundred and fifty people throughout the Western New York community and is used to bring awareness to the university's sustainability movement and how the garden club is contributing. More information about how to join these mailing lists can be found below.

The Garden Crew needs your help! For the 2017 growing season, the UB Campus Garden Club will begin by starting their plants by seed in the Dorsheimer Greenhouse. These plants will be utilized for the campus garden, as well as the club's second annual mother's day plant sale fundraiser, which will be announced early in the spring semester. The club also intends to build raised beds before planting in order to ensure that all of their plants are growing in clean, nutrient rich soil, and that precious water isn't lost to runoff. There will also be an opportunity to intern with UB Sustainability to manage the summer volunteers and growth of the garden while much of the UB community is away. All members of the UB community are invited to participate in these tasks.

UB Campus Garden Club will be holding a few more meetings before the end of the fall semester and all students and faculty are welcome to join them! Meetings are held Wednesday nights at 7pm in Greiner c134, please feel free to join and contribute ideas regarding the design and plant selection for next year's garden. If you are interested in more information about joining the club, applying for the internship or would like to be added to the mailing list for upcoming 'Friends of The Garden' newsletters, please contact, or any of the e-board members listed below. Also, be sure to like their page on Facebook by searching 'UB Campus Garden Club' for additional updates and photos of the growth of the garden and ongoing projects.


UB Campus Garden Club Executive Board is:

President- Sasha Azeez-
Vice President- Eric Shaver-
Treasurer -Alyssa Rosenbauer-
Secretary- Bruce Nagel-