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University of Buffalo
How to Shrink the University's Carbon Footprint While Reducing the Cost of Education

Walter Simpson, Energy Officer of the University of Buffalo (UB) in New York state, has become something of a living legend nationwide among energy professionals, who marvel at his dedication and success during 18 years of coming up with environmental savings at his school. Shrinking UB's carbon footprint may not have been his original motivation, but this has been the outcome of his efforts to help keep down the cost of education at UB.

Confronted with the oil price shocks of the 1970s and electric rate increases of the 1980s, Simpson soon became a self-espoused "conservation zealot." As a result of more than a dozen energy-saving strategies he helped put into place, UB estimates that it is preventing the release of more than 31,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. These practices have also reduced the school's emissions of acid rain pollutants (sulfur dioxide, SO2) by more than 70 tons, and its nitrogen oxide pollutants (NOx) by 107 tons.

Simpson has achieved these savings by speaking the languages of many different constituents: the bottom-line to administration officials; engineering improvements to the plant facility staff; educational opportunities to students and faculty, and environmental stewardship to the entire community.

Together, they are continually coming up with creative ways to green their campus, from turning off lights and computers when they are not being used to suggesting technical innovations in energy and water efficiency. There is now a campus-wide awareness program called "Think Green," that encourages environmental practices, using posters, brochures, newspaper articles, and lectures to explain what is at stake.

UB is currently recycling over 30% of its solid waste stream, and is committed to recycling 50%. Recycling has been shown to be especially valuable in shrinking one's carbon footprint, reducing nearly 2,500 pounds of CO2 emissions per ton of recycled waste. Its success depends on "closing the loop," i.e. buying recycled products, which creates a market for the recycled waste.

Simpson discovered that UB consumed more than fourteen truckloads or 125,000 reams of conventional copy paper per year, made largely from virgin materials. As he notes, "Imagine the environmental benefit of eliminating all that consumption of trees, energy, and water, by using 100% post-consumer recycled paper, which is processed chlorine free." He discovered just such a product in Envirographic 100 paper, which is white-white in color and runs beautifully through all copy machines and printers, with no more microdust than regular paper. Envirographic 100 paper is now available at UB's stores, at a price of only 20 cents more per ream. As of September 1999, 50% of the copy/printer paper bought at UB was E-100, with the remainder made of 30% post consumer waste.

The school's Environmental Task Force has also come up with a 30-year plan to transform the sprawling 1200 acre North Campus into a more energy efficient, biodiverse, and "campus-like" environment by:

Creating self-maintaining and energy-saving ecosystems that provide wind protection for buildings and grounds.

Promoting opportunities for environmental education, nature appreciation and year-round outdoor recreation on campus.

Involving the university community in the implementing these goals.

There is also a grounds plan to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to enhance the landscape and environment without the use of pesticides.

Given the university's environmental leadership since the 1970s, it was a natural step for UB President William R. Greiner to sign the Talloires Declaration which brought the school into a select group of 280 other colleges and universities around the world that pledge to support sustainable development and environmental literacy.

The Talloires Declaration was drafted in 1990 by university presidents who were concerned that they should be taking a leadership role on some of the most critical environmental issues facing the planet at the end of the 20th century. Signatories agree to take actions to address "the unprecedented scale and speed of environmental pollution and degradation, and the depletion of natural resources." Such actions include establishing programs in sustainable development and related fields, institutionalizing resource conservation, recycling, and other ecologically sound practices, and working with community groups and NGOs to find solutions to environmental problems.

Other resources:

Collectively, U.S. colleges spend $5 billion each year on energy, which makes up about 30% of their total operations and maintenance budget. Based on national averages, most of this is from coal, natural gas, and oil. Implementing a well-crafted conservation program can simultaneously cut costs and carbon emissions. For more creative and innovative ideas to green your campus, visit the UB Green web site.

UB report on pesticide dangers and alternatives

Comprehensive 1996 study of SUNY Buffalo's comprehensive energy strategies available in pdf format.

Practical, common sense guide towards establishing similar programs at colleges and other large institutions. Recipe for an Effective Campus Energy-Conservation Program, by Walter Simpson, 17 pp. $2.00. For a copy of the this publication, or a free UB Think Green packet of resources contact the UB Green office at (716)829-3535, or email your street address to:

The National Wildlife Federation's Green Investment, Green Return

Recent report on campus greening efforts, and their 1995 publication, Ecodemia

Greening the Ivory Tower, Improving the Environmental Track Record of Universities, Colleges and other Institutions, by Sarah Hammond Creighton, 1998, MIT Press.  

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