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Hall Makes Environmental Sustainability a Priority

by Greta Petry (May 1, 2006)

Andrei Lapenas, Kathryn Lowery, Hall, and George Robinson

Left to right: Andrei Lapenas, Department of Geography and Planning, Kathryn Lowery, Division of Finance and Business, Hall, and George Robinson, Department of Biological Sciences.

The new University-wide Task Force on Environmental Sustainability was introduced at the Spring Faculty Meeting on April 26. Co-chair George Robinson, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences who is a botanist and an ecologist, reported on the task force's progress in fulfilling its charge.

President Kermit L. Hall created the task force on Feb. 1, saying, "As a public higher education institution, the University at Albany has both an obligation and an opportunity to be a leader in environmental sustainability. Our institution can and should set an example as an environmentally responsible citizen - a model for other colleges and universities as well as a model for our own students and the community in everyday life. At the same time, we must be rooted in reality, identify and understand the trade-offs that will be involved, and choose our options wisely."

Hall added, "In light of the rising cost of energy and the associated costs that go with that, we need to be good stewards of every resource that we have."

The task force will assess the state of the University's current sustainability policies and practices through the work of six committees, and will create a set of practical recommendations with the focus on long-term improvement. Students will be an important part of the initiative. The breadth of issues to be considered by the task force runs from energy use to waste management. Hall noted that to address these issues, the University is fortunate to be able to draw on the wide-ranging expertise of distinguished faculty members from several departments, as well as the experience of senior administrative staff. The group is composed of 17 task force members and three co-chairs.

In addition to Robinson, other co-leaders of the task force are: Andrei Lapenas, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Planning and a climatologist who has published more than 50 papers on global warming; and Kathryn Lowery, vice president for Finance and Business. Hall noted the importance of having such a strong leadership team with varied expertise for this challenging strategic initiative. Both undergraduates and graduate students will be involved with the work of the task force.

Hall said, "One of the goals developed out of the compact planning process and the Board of Visitors' meetings is to promote environmental sustainability, because we all recognize that doing so makes sense and cents."

What is environmental sustainability? While there are different definitions and part of the task force's job is to define it for UAlbany, Lapenas said, "Sustainable processes allow us to meet present-day needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

The task force has eight months to gather facts and develop initiatives. Robinson noted, "Beyond that, I hope the University will install a permanent oversight and advisory group, similar to those at many peer institutions."

Several graduate assistants have been assigned to assist in data collection and other critical functions. Robinson said, "President Hall and Vice President Lowery have provided initial staff and graduate assistant support. In the future, I believe that we can generate a substantial amount of financial resources through grants, energy efficiency, and improvements in our behavior. We also have many service-minded students and organizations that we can count on for all sorts of volunteer efforts."

The task force's initial charge is to develop a "scorecard," a method by which the University can measure its progress in reaching specific environmental goals. The University of Vermont has produced an environmental report card that tracks, for example, the amount of trash it generates, the level of electricity use, and the use of recycling on campus.

The first scorecard at UAlbany will document conditions in critical areas and will recommend future directions that can be taken to resolve existing problems. Hall said, "I have charged the group to present annually, at the Spring Faculty Meeting, an update, an evaluation, and an assessment in relation to the scorecard that has been developed."

Data will be collected by six committees whose membership includes both task force members and other faculty and staff. The groups and leaders are: Built Environment, chaired by Catherine Lawson; Environmental Landscape (natural areas, surface waters, and land planning), headed by Robinson; Energy Use (fuels, water, and air pollution) chaired by Lapenas; Green Commerce (which includes looking at where UAlbany buys its produce and considering composting possibilities), chaired by Gary Kleppel; Sustainability Education, chaired by Helmut Hirsch; and Solid and Hazardous Waste, with co-chairs Vincent Franconere and Michelle McConville.

What are the top environmental issues facing the campus?

Lapenas, who joined the University in 1996, said, "I think one of these issues is definitely the problem of efficient use of energy."

While our physical plant is very efficient in terms of energy conversion from fossil fuel to heat and in terms of low pollution standards, "Unfortunately, we waste most of this energy through open doors, single glass windows, etc. This is not only a problem of sustainability (waste of fossil fuel), but we could also be saving significant money." The utility bill for the University at Albany campuses is projected to be more than $15 million for 2005-2006. According to Robinson, who joined the faculty in 1993, "we embrace far too many initiatives, large and small, without examining their environmental consequences." In addition, "as a community we tolerate far too much waste and neglect, and we rarely award responsible behavior. A training program in ecological literacy seems in order, but the rewards will be happier, healthier, more knowledgeable citizens."

Robinson noted, "Vice President Lowery is crucial to our success. She understands a great deal about how the campuses operate, and she is genuinely interested in improving our sustainability at all levels."

Lowery, who joined the University in 1978, said, "I am delighted to be working with such a committed and knowledgeable group of senior faculty on this important project and look forward to many positive outcomes."

Hall concluded, "I am so appreciative of the enthusiastic response of the task force members to their charge, and the entire campus looks forward to seeing their recommendations in the fall."

UAlbany Task Force on Environmental Sustainability Report >>
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