Four-Day Conference to Focus on a Sustainable Future for the Region

Drawing by Cara Hanley shows green roofs and a greenhouse at the Empire State Plaza
Detail from “The Greening of Empire State” by Cara Hanley

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 22, 2021) —The role of sustainability and resilience in all aspects civic life is the focus of a four-day conference co-sponsored by the University at Albany.

The Sustainable Futures Conference begins Saturday and runs through Tuesday, with more than a dozen international and national and local speakers, workshops and informational sessions, all in a virtual setting.

Discussions will focus on how sustainability and resilience are woven into economic development, housing, health, transportation, justice, energy and education. The conference will place particular emphasis on equity and climate justice, highlighting the implementation of New York State’s landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) in the Capital Region. 

“Creating sustainable practices – from alternative energy systems to carbon and waste reduction to low-impact housing and transportation – is vital to our future, as is educating and creating the next generation of climate and justice leaders,” said Mary Ellen Mallia, UAlbany’s director of sustainability and both an organizer and a presenter at the conference. “The range of topics being addressed by speakers and in break-out sessions during this conference illustrates how sustainability must be embedded in everything we do.”

Over four days, the conference will feature 16 keynote speakers, 32 community-led breakout sessions, a Youth Climate Congress, and an Innovation Salon that will showcase the latest in sustainable design and infrastructure. Invited keynote speakers include the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa; New York State Rep. Paul Tonko; Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University Julian Agyeman; farmer and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm Leah Penniman; Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan; and DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. 

The conference is being organized by The Future of Small Cities Institute and co-hosted by the University at Albany and the Center for Architecture, Science, and Ecology (CASE) at RPI. 

UAlbany student August McEachern is another conference organizer and a leader in the Youth Congress on Climate Justice, which will be holding workshops throughout the conference addressing such topics as bioregionalism, policy and tactics, mutual aid and climate activism. The Youth Congress also will present it work on the final day of the conference.

“We hope to interpret a new future, so radically brilliant compared to our current reality, that it mobilizes our movement into action,” McEachern said of the goals of the Youth Congress.

Sophomore Mehr Sharma said she got involved in the congress as a way to be more intentional in organizing for climate justice.

“As one of the lead organizers for the Albany Climate Strikes in 2019, I found myself thinking about the impact of those actions a lot more during quarantine,” she said. “In recent years, there has been a flurry of social justice and environmental justice youth organizations that dwindled as quickly as they rose, often ignoring the people – especially low-income communities of color – who are impacted by these issues and are already doing hyper-local groundwork. I want that to change.”

President Rodríguez will provide opening remarks on the final day of the conference, and several UAlbany faculty and alumni are leading discussions or involved in the Innovation Salon, a virtual tech fair highlighting smart city infrastructure, urban gardening, clean energy systems and other breakthroughs in sustainable design.

Mallia, the sustainability director, and Jared Enriquez and Scott Kellogg, both lecturers from Geography & Planning, are scheduled to lead breakout sessions. The School of Public Health, the Department of Environmental sand Sustainable Engineering, Weather & Climate Analytics and the AVAIL Lab/PIRE will be presenting research at the Innovation Salon.

A full list of events, video interviews with some of the presenters and a link to register can be found on the conference webpage. UAlbany students can register for free.