Sustainability Blog

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 21:37

All across campus this week, the mood has been that of mingling exhaustion and anticipation. Midterms are among us, and students can be found in various states of preparedness. Walking through Lockwood or Silverman, it would be difficult to miss those hunched over the keyboards of their laptops, fingers racing to complete assignments, or those with foreheads to brisk tabletops, sleepy hands barely supporting half empty cups of coffee just as cold.

Many of us are waiting for Friday to come around simply for a break from classes, and some time to catch up on course materials. Others are itching to hop on a plane, or into their cars to escape the vengeful wrath of mother nature’s most recent wintry spell. But before you leave, take a minute to think about the environmental impact of your time away. I’m not trying to detract from your enjoyment, only suggesting we travel responsibly.

If there are any last minute planners out there still searching for a hotel room, this first tip is for you. Book green lodging. Make sure to read reviews about the place you're looking to stay, and check out the link at the bottom of this post that contains a list of sustainably minded hotels across the globe. Also, when thinking about your transportation, consider renting a hybrid or bio-fueled car. If you’re traveling with a group, make sure to carpool or use public transportation. It may be too late for this spring break, but keep in mind that UB’s Student Association can help get you and your group into a bus at a good rate!

When packing, be conscious about leaving extra room in your bag for anything you might want to bring home. If you are going to purchase toiletries, buy organic, and stay away from those travel sized plastic bottles that are thrown away after every trip. Consider buying some reusable travel containers and filling them with soaps and shampoo from home. Not only does this decrease the amount of single use plastic ending up in landfills, it will save you money on future trips! On the way out of your house, be sure to shut all of your electronics off, unplug those things that do not need the electricity, and turn off your heat!

Once you reach your destination, you’re going to want to relax and enjoy your time away from school, but be sure to do so with this in mind: your vacation location is someone else’s home. Respect their environment and leave your trash where you came from. Try not to bring things that you know you will end up leaving behind. Re-use linens and towels at your hotel to conserve water. Turn off lights and use the stairs rather than the elevator to reduce your electricity consumption.

While shopping, buy local! Help support the economy where you are traveling. If you are unsure how sustainable the food or goods you are looking at are, ask the locals. They can help you locate artisan goods and well-sourced clothing, as well as second hand souvenirs from antique shops that are often much more memorable than the little gift shop trinkets we often find ourselves compelled to buy in the moment, but never actually use or display. Committing to little things like this can help make your trip leave a mark in your memories, and not on the earth.

At this point in the semester I’d like to take the time to thank you all for reading my blog. I’m looking forward to my next post where I will be highlighting an interesting environmental project occurring on campus. Keep an eye out for that during the week after spring break. As always I invite you to email me with any questions or comments about the sustainability movement occurring at UB! Enjoy your break!

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

Relevant Links:
http://greentravelerguides.com/tips/green-certifiers/

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 - 20:35

In May of 2007 the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) was initiated to organize and transform establishments of higher education with a common goal of solving climate change. These schools have shown their commitment to educating the future political, business and scientific leaders of our country to establish methods of community engagement, financial tactics, and technological advancement that will lead us to a greener tomorrow. Leading by example, ACUPCC signatories measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions and are developing plans to reduce them, with the objective of becoming climate neutral. The University at Buffalo, an early signatory has stepped forward in this process by declaring a goal of climate neutrality by the year 2030. This post is intended to highlight some of the ways that our university is doing so through educational opportunities, and engaging activism.

A variety of departments offer courses in sustainability or with sustainable concepts incorporated into the curriculum, so many in fact that I will not even begin to try to list all of them on this blog. From architecture to law, geography to philosophy, there are a plethora of opportunities to approach environmental academia. There is even a major in the social sciences interdisciplinary program called Environmental Studies, and I’ll offer a couple course descriptions there.

SSC 315, Field Ecology is a field oriented course that get students outside into the Letchworth Forest, and sometimes to off campus locations, to explore the interrelatedness of species. The classes are broadly focused in the areas of environmental analysis, conservation biology and general ecology but specific topics range from wildlife and botanical surveys to resources management and habitat studies. For students who are interested in environmentalism, this course is a fantastic way to get hands on experience and to see the objects of your study first hand. If you are looking to supplement that field work with more archival research, look into SSC 442, Environmental Movements, a class designed to provide a comprehensive analysis of the environmental movement in the United States, tackling topics such as conservation, preservation, environmental justice, ecofeminism and ecotheology.

As I mentioned, the variety of programs offering courses in and related to sustainability is outstanding. I collected a list of over twenty that I would have liked to share here, but with space and time in mind, I must move forward. I will link the page listing all courses in or including sustainability at the bottom of this post. Outside of the classroom, opportunities become even more interesting. Wednesday nights, the Students For Sustainability Council meets to discuss the events, goals and progress of many of the environmentally concerned organizations on campus and there is surely something here for everyone. Check out UB Linked for a comprehensive list of clubs on campus, but here I will name name a few that I have had the pleasure to work with. Engineers For A Sustainable World (ESW), the Environmental Network(EN), Alpha Kappa Chi (AKX) UB’s Environmental Fraternity, Geology Club and of course, UB Campus Garden Club. At the bottom of this post you will find links to contact all of these groups. Each one of them has honed in on specific aspects of the environmental movement and are doing a wonderful job engaging and mobilizing students to promote and enact sustainable practices. To get involved, check out the links below.

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

Relevant Links:
https://ecoamerica.org/programs/american-college-university-presidents-c...
https://www.buffalo.edu/sustainability/education/sustainability-courses....
http://www.buffalo.edu/sustainability/engagement/ways-you-can-get-involv...
https://buffalo.collegiatelink.net/organization/ESW
https://buffalo.collegiatelink.net/organization/EN
https://buffalo.collegiatelink.net/organization/akx
https://buffalo.collegiatelink.net/organization/geologyclub
https://buffalo.collegiatelink.net/organization/campusgarden

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 20:46

In recent years it has becoming ever more popular to seek out and consume ‘organic’ foods, but there is not a clear consensus among the general public about what that term means or why it has suddenly become so important. The merriam-webster dictionary defines organic in a number of ways, but the definition most relevant to food production is as follows: “of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides.”

On its surface it sounds like something we can all get behind, but in practice these foods are not as accessible as one might hope. Organic certification costs money. Each organic operation is subject to an annual fee of between $250-$1500, and this is often reflected in the price at the supermarket. So the consumer is faced with a conundrum. How do we ensure that our food is healthy and nutritious without being concerned with finding certification stickers on our food, and without breaking the bank? Two simple words: shop local.

The benefits of buying local extend beyond the realm of environmental conservation. The prosperity of our economies and the health of our citizens are at stake as well. Small farming operations contribute to local economies, creating more vigorous and secure communities. Purchasing from a farmers market may seem less convenient than your local grocery store, but the benefits greatly outweigh the change in routine. When you purchase food from a grocery store, around 85% of the money goes towards the marketing and distribution budget of that store, while the remaining 15% goes to the farmer. When shopping at a farmers market, 100% of your purchase goes to the farmer. Millions of dollars could be circulated in local economies every year if we were to all transition to buying food locally. Small scale farmers often abide by the expectations of ‘organic’ farming anyway, but the lack of certification saves them money and in turn keeps the prices at a farmers market reasonable.

Locally grown foods are picked at their prime and there is a much shorter time between farm and table, meaning your food is likely to taste better. According to the Institute of Food Research, a vegetable labeled ‘fresh’ in the supermarket has lost up to 45% of its nutritional value between the time they were picked and the time they end up in your cart. To make matters worse, the average food travels about 2,000 miles before ending up at a dinner table in America. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture contributes more than 20% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas-emissions, and that is largely the result of transport.

On a positive note, people are starting to take this danger seriously, and as a University we can be proud of the way our dining management has approached this problem. UB Campus Dining and Shops has been focusing heavily on building relationships with local food producers and distributors. We purchase vegetables from farms across New York, some of which are right in our own backyards such as W.D. Henry & Sons and Amos Zittel & Sons of Eden, and Bowman Farms of North Collins. A full map of local foods used by CDS can be found at their website, which I will link at the bottom of this post. But we don’t stop there, our napkins are made from recycled paper, paper-based tableware is used (many of which are compostable), and our resident halls and retail dining locations are all polystyrene free! When eating at UB, keep an eye out for the made in/grown in New York icons, and when eating off campus be conscious about where your food came from.

As always, thanks for reading! If you have any questions or ideas on how UB can be more sustainable moving forward, feel free to email me!

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

Relevant Links:
http://myubcard.com/sustain/food
http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2017/01/09/why-buying-local-food-matters/
http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2014/07/09/10-ways-local-better-organic/
http://greenlivingideas.com/2016/12/27/worlds-needed-clean-tech-innovati...

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
ericshav@buffalo.edu
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club

Relevant Links:
http://www.buffalo.edu/sustainability/working-green/green-solutions/zero...
http://www.trashisfortossers.com/ (Lauren Singer)
http://myzerowaste.com/2017/01/how-to-reduce-food-waste/
https://www.facebook.com/pg/wnwnbuffalo/about/?ref=page_internal
http://eartheasy.com/grow_compost_bin_build.htm

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
ericshav@buffalo.edu
Student Sustainability Coordinator UB-CDS
Cultural Anthropology B.A. (In-Progress)
Vice President, UB Campus Garden Club

Relevant Links:
-https://www.buffalo.edu/sustainability.html
-Caradonna, Jeremy L. Sustainability: A History. New York: Oxford UP, 2014. Print.
-http://www.etiskraad.dk/~/media/Etisk-Raad/en/Publications/Climate-damag...