Sustainability Blog

#365Challenge: Engaging Students in Sustainability Through Twitter

Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - 14:22

At most, this blog is a collection of statistics (that you may or may not be interested in) and suggestions on how to live sustainably. While I wish it was enough for you to read this blog to be sustainable, I know it isn’t. Unfortunately, passive involvement in school is not effective either. Showing up to class for “participation” points and half listening to lecture will not be enough to absorb the information. Dr. John Atkinson, an assistant professor of environmental engineering, knows this and found a way to engage his students enrolled in his class titled “Sustainability”. By setting up weekly challenges to be completed and documented on Twitter using the hashtag, #365Challenge, Dr. Atkinson has been able to get students to think about how their actions impact the environment in and out of the classroom.

Dr. Atkinson not only teaches sustainability, but lives sustainably as well. Through in class discussions, you’ll often hear stories about his efforts to reduce his own carbon footprint. “It is easy for me to preach about using public transportation, eating less meat, lowering the thermostat, wasting less hot water, and generating less solid waste”, he says. “I tried this, only to learn that lecturing is not an effective teaching strategy for such an essential topic. As passionate as they may be, my pleas go in one ear and out the other, even to students actively trying to be better global citizens. Students should be provided with suggestions that allow them to live the sustainable lifestyle that they so desire. As the professor of a course broadly titled ‘Sustainability’, this teaching opportunity is mine.”

Challenges range in difficulty from #NoMeatWeek, where students would try to replace one meal with a vegetarian option after learning the impact of meat production on the environment in class, to #SpringCleaning, where students diverted gently used items from landfills by donating them to a local Buffalo organization called Friends of Night People, to #ShortShowers, where the limitation is you have to keep your showers under 5 minutes (sounds impossible, but isn’t). As a regular NFTA rider and proponent for public transportation, Dr. Atkinson’s favorite challenge is #emissionLess week because as students in his class know, cars are one of the worst things for the environment. Bonus points are awarded to those who complete the challenge, however, it is not mandatory. Despite this, participation has increased year after year. Dr. Atkinson welcomes participation from everyone, on campus and off, and uses Twitter as a platform because it “forces students to think reflectively about the topic at hand because it requires efficient and impactful communiques.” He also appreciates that Twitter is easily accessible and these messages can be seen by a lot of people all over the world. The only downside for non-students who choose to participate? No bonus points.

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, Campus Dining and Shops

Earth Week 2018

Monday, April 16, 2018 - 13:27

Hello everyone! Happy Earth Week! I hope our sustainable practices are in full effect (as they should be every week). I think this week is a great time to challenge ourselves to see how sustainable we can live and see if these could actually be viable changes to our lifestyles. Let’s investigate the options!

One option is using public transportation this week. If you live downtown or by South Campus, this is definitely a great way to save money, wear and tear on your vehicle, and the stress of finding parking while simultaneously reducing harmful emissions. Taking the bus or train will give you time to read, study or relax. Walking to and from stops to your destination also helps you get some of your steps in.

Alternatively, depending on the weather, using a bike, rollerblades or a skateboard are also clean ways to travel that double as exercise.
Another money saving option would be going meat “less”, vegetarian or vegan this week. If cutting meat completely out of your diet isn’t an option, look into cutting out beef. It takes approximately 8 times more energy to produce a pound of beef (31 kWh/lb.) than a pound of chicken (4.4 kWh/lb.). Beef production also uses more land and emits more methane, a GHG. By replacing an all-beef burger from Stackers to a chicken burger or a salad from Edgy Veggies, you’ll be making a more sustainable choice.

Have things you don’t need? Donate them! This is a great way to give items a second chance at life and diverting them from landfills. On the other hand, if you need something, look into used items first. You might find what you need at a lower price and will save them from landfills as well.
All of these suggestions might sound like a lot of work, and as a college student, you’re probably already exhausted. Get your caffeine fix and fill up your UB CDS reusable mug for 10% off your drink purchase. Save money, keep single use cups and lids out of the landfills, and help yourself from falling asleep in lecture. The earth (and your professor) appreciates it!

April also marks the start of planning out your garden! Starting a garden at home will give you access to fresh fruit and vegetables and will help encourage the growth of our dying bee population. Need help starting your garden or don’t have any green space in your dorm/apartment? Join UB Gardening Club and help make your campus more sustainable!

Speaking of gardens, soil amendment is available at the Statler Commissary (by the Center for Tomorrow/ Maple Rd. Entrance)! By dehydrating pre and post consumer food waste from the dining centers, Campus Dining and Shops is reducing their overall food waste and helping the community add nutrients back to the soil. It can even complement your own compost!

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

RecycleMania 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - 15:14

We are 3 weeks into RecycleMania, a fierce competition between college campuses across the US and Canada where the university with the most diverted waste gets the ultimate prize: bragging rights. In the end, we’re all winners for reducing our campus wide carbon footprints. There are different categories that measure different sources of waste such as weight of paper waste, food organics wastes, cardboard, cans and bottles. For the competition, UB reports our total recycling in pounds, green house gas (GHG) reduction in metric tons, as well as waste minimization in pounds per person. Since results are cumulative, each week will add on to the previous week’s numbers.

To summarize the last 2 weeks of competition, our recycling totals to 101,155 lbs and waste minimization comes to 7.25 lbs/person. This brought our weekly recycling down from 38.63% in week 1 to 38.05%. This puts us in 60th place out of the total 129 participating colleges and universities. In the GHG reduction category we’ve reduced 209 metric tons of CO2, which is the same as 41 cars off the road or the energy consumption of 18 households! We also can’t forget about the diversion of food waste from landfills. Thanks to Campus Dining and Shops’ efforts, 11% of UB’s overall waste is composted!

RecycleMania isn’t only a great way to draw attention to our recycling practices; it’s also a great way to see other schools’ recycling practices. The website makes it very easy to see where we stand compared to other schools and there’s nothing like scoping out the competition for next year! Currently, the highest recorded recycling rate is over 96 %. Hopefully, with increasing effort and awareness of our waste habits, we will see UB snatching the top spot on the leaderboard.

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, UB Campus Dining and Shops

Agriculture: Environmental Effects

Thursday, February 8, 2018 - 12:07

By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I love talking about food on this platform. While I enjoy the
flavors of my favorite dishes and the vital nutrients they may provide, what I appreciate the most is how
they got to my plate. A lot of the food we eat is made possible by tweaking ancient agricultural practices
with modern technology in order to produce bigger yields for growing populations. What has stayed
constant over thousands of years is the fact that agriculture has significant effects on the environment,
economy and society.

If you’ve ever grown anything in your back yard, home or at the UB Campus Garden, you know that
plants require nutrients which they get from the soil. When you grow the same kinds of plants on a large
scale over and over again in one area, such as in a monoculture farm, you are depleting the soil of those
nutrients. The soil and I are very similar: we need lots of rest, nutrients and are susceptible to plagues
and diseases. So how can farmers combat these needs? The answer lies in fertilizers and agrochemicals.
While introducing these substances into the soil protects crops from pests and supplies the essential
nutrients the worn out soil lacks, they pose another set of problems. The use of chemicals can harm the
farmers who handle them and important microorganisms that live in the soil, as well as contaminate
surrounding soil and water. Fertilizers can also be washed away into nearby water bodies, feeding algae
and aquatic plants, disrupting ecosystems and suffocating co-habiting animals.

Another issue that comes with some agricultural practices is the employment of heavy tilling which
makes the soil more susceptible to erosion. Erosion and tilling contributes to greenhouse gas emissions
and affects the climates these farms operate in. What’s the most astounding part of this problem is the
rate at which it is happening. In Dr. Atkinson’s class, “Sustainability in Latin America, A Case Study in
Costa Rica”, we witnessed a farm that had been worn down 9 feet below the land in only 15 years. To
put it in perspective, it takes at least 500 years for just an inch of top soil to develop. Without the
implementation of conservative tillage practices and with an increasing reliance on agrochemicals and
fertilizers, we will continue to destroy our already limited farmable lands and will face an even graver
food insecurity issue.

I never said learning where your food comes from was going to be uncomplicated, but it should help you
understand how important your next meal is. We often forget that we can be more sustainable
consumers by supporting businesses that use better farming techniques and fair business practices for
their employees. The power of your wallet really comes into play when buying organic, fair trade or local
products and has a greater impact than you would think. We can also be more sustainable consumers by
avoiding overconsumption and wasteful habits.

On Friday, February 9 th , UB Campus Dining and Shops will be hosting a Waste Less dinner at C3. Special
menu items will be made from perfectly good produce that would’ve otherwise been thrown away due
to their imperfect appearance. Together, we will show our appreciation for where our food comes from
and that ugly vegetables are beautiful on the inside! We will also rewarding students who take what
they can eat by returning to the canal with a clean plate.

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year… For Waste

Friday, December 8, 2017 - 15:36

We’re finally approaching the end of the semester. For most of us, finals are so close to being over that we can almost taste the sweet, sweet freedom from exams, due dates and 8 AMs. The upcoming break will be an exciting time to partake in holiday festivities! Unfortunately, this is a notorious time of the year for waste. ”How can I fully enjoy this season without destroying my favorite planet”, you might ask. Well, inquisitive and concerned reader, the good news is that I’m here to tell you that there are green ways to spend the holidays!

Giving gifts to a loved one? Swap wrapping paper for old news paper or opt for reusable bags or recycled gift bags to cut down on packaging waste that ends up in landfills. A great gift idea or holiday activity would be donating money, items or time to an organization. We often forget that poverty is a sustainability issue and there’s no better time to help your neighbors than this giving season. If you do decide to donate items, call your local shelter or donation center and ask them what they really need first.

Lights are a big part of holiday décor but did you know that electricity is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions? You can make a big impact by turning off any light when not in use or hooking them up to timers that automatically turn lights on or off at designated times. More efficient lighting options are out there such as LEDs and solar powered outdoor lighting. These practices should be employed throughout the year, not just during the holidays.

Finally, our favorite part of the holidays here at Campus Dining and Shops is the food! Food waste is a recurring topic of discussion in this blog and the holidays are responsible of producing a lot of that consumer waste. If you are hosting a dinner, you should take note of how many guests you will be serving and plan out portion sizes that will yield the least amount of waste. A great approach to cooking is the “root to stem” method. This means cooking things such as vegetables and fruits whole, or saving odd and end pieces for other dishes. For example, leftover turkey and vegetable peels are the components to a great stock. Leftovers can also be a great lunch the next day or repurposed into new dishes. Sustainability and creativity in the kitchen go hand in hand!

Speaking of food waste, look out for our Waste “Less” Dinner event at C3 early in the 2018 semester. Come join us for delicious dishes designed to reduce waste! By taking what you can eat, you will be inducted into the “clean plate club” where members are eligible to win prizes!

I hope everyone has a fun and safe break. Relax, unwind and get ready for the next semester (or don’t think about it at all and let it sneak up on you). See you next year!

-Maylan Nguyen
Student Sustainability Coordinator, CDS

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