In an effort to reduce carbon emissions on campus, UB has implemented a 10 in 10 climate action plan which targets ten focus areas where carbon emissions or climatic impact can be reduced in the next 10 years to bring UB to carbon neutrality by 2030.
These target areas include carbon pricing, green energy sources, electrifying all university transportation, heating and cooling, waste management, efficient energy usage, greening commute, reducing food waste and investing in WNY carbon offsets.
Derek Nichols, the engagement coordinator for UB Sustainability, oversees some of the committees relating to the climate action plan. He spoke to The Spectrum by phone Monday to discuss aspects of the plan and its impact on the campus community:
The Spectrum: What is the 10-in-10 action plan?
Derek Nichols: “[The 10 in 10 plan] is really to change the culture of campus to be more sustainable. So that’s everything from individual actions, but also the policies and how the administration works. We’re trying to change everybody’s behaviors to be more sustainable. So that aside, the climate action plan the university has adopted — our office leads the charge on it. We facilitate that work with partners from all over campus: students, faculty, staff. There are 10 strategies trying to get to carbon neutrality. Ten committees are working on pushing that forward, advancing that through boots-on-the-ground work and again, changing the procedures of how our campus operates.”
TS: How does UB Sustainability facilitate the climate action plan?
DN: “Our office is smaller. There are four people working in it and we have some other students that work for us — if it was just us trying to change the culture of campus, it would be like changing 40,000 people’s daily lives. We like to phrase our work as [if] it’s collective work. So yes, the climate action plan came, we steward that but we have found partners that help push us forward and we want them to really be the owners of it. For example, one of the plans is to upgrade our infrastructure to make it more and more efficient. I’m not an engineer, nobody in our office is an engineer, so that’s why we have our facilities people really leading that charge because that’s where the knowledge base is.”
TS: What are some of the challenges with the plan right now?
DN: “All the energy that we use on campus, we’ve offset with renewable energy, and that comes from the solar panels that you see on our campus. And then we also purchase renewable energy through something called renewable energy credits. So that’s sort of cut our emissions down, but that might be low-hanging fruit, because it’s something we have a lot more control over. The harder part is commuting patterns and the energy efficiency of our buildings. That’s probably the most expensive cost that we have, is trying to upgrade all of our infrastructure, when you think about South Campus [and] all the old buildings there, [there’s] a lot of stuff on North, too, [that] just needs to be upgraded. So that will help cut carbon emissions.”
TS: Parking is an issue for students and it falls under the climate plan’s transportation purview. How will it be addressed?
DN: “The hard part is, commuting students and staff — the majority of us do not live here — commuting goes to emitting emissions. One strategy is obviously to make the green commutes easier, try to create the infrastructure to create a biking culture, carpooling culture, public transportation [goes] right in[to] that, but it’s hard. Biking in the winter, in Buffalo, like that’s something, sustainable as I am — you'll never see me doing that… [There has always been talk of] extending the Metro Rail to North Campus and that was a conversation when I was a student here like 10 years ago, and we’ve talked about it then but now it seems more and more like it’s coming close to reality. [It] seems like there could be potential there. But that’s a super long-term strategy and it probably won't be completed by the time we want to be carbon neutral.
The other thing that we’ve had conversations about is carbon pricing, and that’s one of the strategies of our climate action plan. These are conversations that we’re still exploring, and there’s not a clear path. [The fees are] probably gonna be the most controversial of all the policies because [we’re] asking people to pay a fee, but it’s not like that fee would go to the President’s salary or anything; it would be like, We’re gonna use that money generated to go into green programs and to streamline the rest of our operations… we [need] create infrastructure to make other commuting [options] possible.
It seems very piecemeal, but a holistic transportation policy is being worked on. It’s going to be very, very hard to get to zero emissions for our community like it’s unless we make everybody live on our campus and walk everywhere, we’re always [going to] have emissions. And even if we did [have everyone live on campus and walk everywhere], we still have a football team that flies to play football games, and there’s a lot of addition [of emissions] to that. We can’t otherwise stop having a football team or a basketball team. The answer to all of that is we produce carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are a strategy to help bridge that gap [to] neutrality. So the way we look at it for our office and for the university it [that it] is a band aid.”
TS: COP 26 is going on right now and one item they’ve addressed is deforestation. On a smaller scale, UB has cut down a lot of trees for solar panels. How does that work?
DN: “We were going through the whole process [of putting up more solar panels across UB], [but we were] like, we’re tearing down trees to do this — it looks terrible, but there is a plan. So we're taking a high-level look [with UB Facilities] at all the trees that we have on campus and where we can plant more. There is a plan in place to replace everything that was knocked down. As well as [an] increase [in] overall totality. So yes, we didn’t just kind of raze all that without a new plan. I like that too because they were just studying. It is important because they want to make sure they [can] find healthy parts of the forest to meet and steward those. So it’s the long-term plan involved with that.”
Julie Frey is an asst. news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Frey is an assistant news/features editor for The Spectrum.