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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Last semester, other students and I volunteered to pick up litter from North Campus’ Bizer Creek.

The service, organized by UB Sustainability, saw a dozen or so students picking up garbage, with some pieces as big as castaway tires. 

I started picking up garbage by the creek just before a UB staff member asked me to come with her to the next footbridge.

Low and behold, I found a footbridge almost exclusively used by staff who work in the buildings in the southwest corner of North Campus. We encountered a larger mess of bottles, cans, wrappers and those little white napkins and cups that have the bold blue letters on them. 

But that wasn’t the worst of it, as we found a waste-disposal area outside the Statler Commissary, the location of UB Sustainability’s office, where a dumpster bred a scattering of garbage fragments up the creek.

The Spectrum reported that the office’s cleanup was a success, with an estimated 500 pounds of garbage collected.

Still, I beg to differ.

Free-association between UB Sustainability’s waste and the local water life hasn’t been reported on until now.

And this irony is only one of many anecdotes that characterizes an organization that seems more intent on spreading a positive narrative about itself and the university than achieving sustainability. 

In this sense, UB Sustainability seems to serve some purpose other than sustainability –– a public-relations branch of the university, or what some would call a propaganda machine. The efforts thereby resemble something of the fossil fuel and plastics industries; organizations clearly uninterested in sustainability, however willing to use the environmentalist’s lexicon to help push their interests past people who care. 

This is called greenwashing. 

In this op-ed, and the ones I plan to have published in future weeks, I will look at UB Sustainability from the perspective you’d get out there behind the Statler building, a place of scattered litter, to figure out what it is that you’re doing in this goofy sport of environmentalism.

The next three columns will be the supporting arguments informed by research in the respective areas of carbon neutrality, propaganda and sustainability education.

The culminating piece will bring together these polemic ideas for a final recommendation.

Some see the purpose of public education as creating good citizens out of students, preparing them for a professional as well as civic life. 

You’ll see that UB Sustainability largely practices and teaches “corporate,” as opposed to “institutionalized” sustainability. Further, they seem to antagonize ideas against the grain of big business and the entrepreneurial model. 

Therefore, the purpose of sustainability education at UB seems to be training employable people –– not leaders of the sustainable revolution, but enablers of their employer’s earth-corroding businesses. 

Students who might have entered the university with the purpose of making a sustainable impact are instead learning the misleading corporate language surrounding sustainability. 

Next time we will learn about the broken promise of LEED certified buildings, and the unlikely promise of a carbon-neutral campus by 2030.

What do you think of sustainability on campus? Tweet us @UBSpectrum

Opinion desk can be reached at 



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