Sustaining Buffalo

Undergraduate Academies promotes environmental preservation

For a week during his winter break, Jeremy Pike collected old Christmas trees and planted trees and shrubs in the wetlands of Southern Louisiana.

Pike, a senior biological sciences major, spoke about the Alternative Winter Break trip during a movie screening presented by the Undergraduate Academies.

From Feb. 17-21, the Undergraduate Academies held events during Sustainability Week regarding the preservation of the environment and how UB students can get involved. Along with the movie screening, events featured a discussion about a science-based and community-focused advocacy organization committed to improving water quality in the Buffalo area.

"I think as the Office of Sustainability, we want to continue to promote culture change on campus," said Jim Simon, the sustainability engagement coordinator for UB Green. "By taking the students down to Louisiana and the wetlands, we created or helped nurture a concern for the people and the environment and the equity issues there."

Pike, with 16 other UB students and two staff advisers from the Office of Sustainability, went on the weeklong trip, which was set up by the Center for Student Leadership and Community Engagement (CSLCE).

The students who went on the trip said it was "one of the best things that they'd ever done," according to Simon. Last Friday, some of them participated in a talk in which they gave presentations about their experiences in Southern Louisiana. This was in conjunction with the Sustainability Film Series.

Beasts of the Southern Wild was the first of three films to be shown over this semester.

Simon said the film was chosen because it directly relates to what the students experienced in the wetlands. The students visited the actual site where the film was made.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," Pike said. "It's just totally different from how it is here in New York State ... People were so friendly and helping out with the wetlands. [It] really brought the community together."

UB students don't necessarily have to leave Buffalo to partake in sustainability events, according to Pike.

On April 20, the Spring Shoreline Sweep with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper will take place. Riverkeeper is "the only science-based, community focused, advocacy organization in Western New York dedicated to protecting and restoring the quality and quantity" of water, according to its website.

Undergraduate Academies brought in Jill Jedlicka, the executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, to speak to interested students about the organization and the importance of sustaining the waterways of Western New York. Part of Jedlicka's job is to advocate for the protection of the Great Lakes, which includes Lake Erie.

"Our mission is to promote the protection and restoration of Western New York's freshwater and also to connect people to water," Jedlicka said. "And so the work that we do ranges from large-scale river remediation to engaging citizens and everyday individuals into their local water lives."

UB has been working with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper "for decades," according to Jedlicka. She calls it a "great partnership" because of how engaged the student body is with volunteer clean-ups and the academic expertise of UB professors.

Jedlicka has noticed an increase in the level of awareness about the importance of keeping waterways clean in the Buffalo community.

Last summer was the first time Jedlicka saw a substantial number of people able to enjoy the waters of Buffalo in her career.

"There have been more opportunities for people to get to the waterfront, which historically we've been blocked off from because of industry and just because of the way the land was used," Jedlicka said. "But now people remember that we're part of the Great Lakes."

Some of the more interesting urban developments that have taken place in sustainability re-initiatives are in places like Milwaukee and Cleveland, according to Kenneth Shockley, the academic director for the Sustainability Academy.

Shockley said having Buffalo join the group of progressive and creative reactions is wonderful and it gives a collection of "urban opportunities" for the city. He also said a few sustainability initiatives have been highlighted to students in order to capture their interest, as well as the local community's. This includes working with Riverkeeper on local projects.

Shockley believes the partnership with Riverkeeper synergizes well with the features of sustainability that the university's Sustainability Academy encourages, such as working with everyone who is interested in seeing progress to keep local waterways clean.

Some people are willing to help while others aren't, according to Pike.

"It's a tragedy of the commons," Pike said. "You think that if you aren't going to recycle your water bottle, you won't care because somewhere out there isn't going to do it, either."

Pike hopes people think on more of a "self scale" and do their part for sustainability.

Shockley's hope for UB is to get a reputation of being part of an environmentally progressive area that displays how a community can live in a beautiful region like Western New York in a sustainable fashion.