Buffalo region leads the way in renewable energy, sustainability
When you think of Buffalo, N.Y., things that come to mind could include lost Super Bowls, snow and, of course, chicken wings. But the real news coming out of Buffalo is renewable energy. For more than a century, the Western New York city has been a leader in clean energy.
“It was in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition. That was the first time that electricity was sent for a long distance and powered the streetlights through Buffalo, called the ‘City of Lights.’ Not only was it electricity, it was clean, renewable energy coming from Niagara Falls,” says Ryan McPherson, the chief sustainability officer at the University of Buffalo (UB).
The fast-falling water of Niagara Falls provides the city with a surplus of hydroelectric power courtesy of the New York Power Authority (NYPA), which is a national leader in promoting energy efficiency and the development of clean energy technologies, and is the only statewide electricity provider in New York, with 16 generating facilities and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines.
Sustainability and clean, renewable energy are important issues for the entire region. At UB, they touch every part of the campus, through its “10 in 10” sustainability plan to get the campus climate neutral by 2030.
McPherson is taking the lead on the plan, which looks at sustainability from a holistic angle. “We don’t exist to get our emissions down to zero, we exist to do research, teaching and engagement,” he says. “We looked at our sustainability strategy much more through the lens of advancing the institution. And so how do we find the solutions to build a better tomorrow for our research. How do we create the next generation of change agents through our teaching? How do we learn from the community, and how do they learn from us? How do we partner on those things? Then we also think about the operations, and how do those operations reflect UB values.”
The 2021 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings rated UB No. 1 in the world in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) pertaining to climate action and No. 2 in addressing the SDG for affordable and clean energy.
Currently, the college is purchasing 100 percent renewable energy, and while hydropower is a huge chunk of their grid, they also have an onsite solar initiative. UB also was recently awarded a grant to create a plan to electrify the heating apparatus for 60 buildings on its historic south campus. “At one point we were burning coal on the south campus. We moved to natural gas and now we need to electrify,” McPherson says. The funding, which will be matched by university funds, is to create a roadmap of how to achieve that.
The college also has a strong relationship with the city itself, working together toward a more sustainable future.
“With all of our government partners, the biggest one is the Regional Institute which is out of our school of architecture and planning,” McPherson says. “With the city and counties, both Erie and Niagara, and many of the municipalities that are in those two counties as well, created a stakeholder initiative One Region Forward, which is a sustainable development plan for the region.”
McPherson also praised the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable, a collaborative of public and private sector organizations working together to demonstrate how area businesses can take a lead in integrating sustainability into their operations to benefit staff, the environment, and their bottom line. “They see the self interest in sustainability within their companies and in the region.”
UB students also participate in Carbon Reduction Challenge, where they work with local companies to layout the company’s carbon footprint for them. “We have a waiting list of companies that want to do this,” McPherson says. “It’s a win-win because those companies and municipalities have students coming in who are learning about this. Last year, one of the clients was the City of Buffalo, and they worked with Erie County the year before. We’ve had those kind of collaborations for decades with the city and county and municipalities.”
“If you look back, over 100 years ago, we were using renewable energy and it powered a massive industrial revolution, if you will, in this area,” McPherson says. “You can go back even further to the Haudenosaunee, the 5 Nation States, including the Seneca’s whose land we work on and try to steward with them here. Their overarching great law, the great law of the Iroquois Confederacy was thinking about your decisions over the course of seven generations. So that is what sustainability is all about. It’s not about tree hugging and Birkenstocks. It’s about how do we make smart, strategic long-term decisions that factor in our planet, that factor in our people, and that factor in our prosperity.”