All over the world, conversations about the environment and the state of our planet are intensifying. We are dryer, hotter, more crowded and disaster-prone than ever before. Climatologists and others in the scientific community have stressed a need for immediate, far-reaching action.
On February 6, 2018, Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced his participation on behalf of the SUNY system in a North American initiative of universities designed to help save our planet .
- See: Top Research Universities Announce Coalition to Accelerate Local Climate Action at 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit
From Feb. 4-6, President Stanley attended the Second Nature 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Ariz., an annual gathering of university presidents and other leaders focused on developing rapid climate change solutions. Stanley was a featured speaker during the closing keynote panel Feb. 6.
That same day, he participated in the unveiling of the newly-formed University Climate Change Coalition (UC3). The UC3 comprises 13 leading research universities in the US, Canada and Mexico that are working together to aid their communities in the transition to a low-carbon, eco-friendly lifestyle. Stanley represented the 64 institutions of the SUNY system for the gathering, where he discussed SUNY’s commitment to improve its energy efficiency performance by 20 percent and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020.
“It’s certainly an honor to be a part of this coalition, but more than that, this is an opportunity to pool our resources with other institutions and make a lasting impact on climate change,” President Stanley said. “This is a critical time that calls for decisive action. Thanks to our long history of green initiatives, Stony Brook continues to be at the forefront of this effort to protect our world.”
President Stanley at Feb. 6 panel hosted by the 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit
Sustainability at Stony Brook
The University has fought for the cause of the environment since well before it became a mandate and “green” was a term used to describe all things environmentally conscious. In 1967, Professor Charles F. Wurster of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) joined other researchers studying the effects of the pesticide DDT on ospreys. The birds’ reproductive systems were adversely affected by the widespread use of DDT, endangering the species’ survival. Wurster and others filed a lawsuit to ban DDT and the court issued an injunction in less than two weeks, stirring their motivation to go further.
“That news was electrifying. It got us to start thinking bigger,” Wurster said in an Oct. 2016 Times Beacon Record News Media interview. “In the fall of 1967, we incorporated the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund), with the goal of bringing science into the courtroom. We hadn’t the remotest idea of what it would be at that time — we were just a group of 10 people with an idea.”
That freedom to ask tough questions, explore and innovate is what has made Stony Brook a leader in sustainability for decades. But for all that the University has already achieved, there’s more work to be done. Stony Brook is meeting that challenge both academically and in its daily operation.
SoMAS is home to an interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies program, which includes five majors, six minors and a graduate certificate. SoMAS also offers a variety of opportunities for hands-on research and internships in the community.
The courses offered through the program give students an opportunity to get involved in a variety of sustainability efforts. These range from advocacy and leadership in Environmental Design, Policy and Planning, to effective water and land use in Coastal Environmental Studies, to conservation work in Ecosystems and Human Impact, to name a few.
“In Sustainability Studies, we prepare our students to tackle issues in sustainability from many disciplines — we offer courses in the sciences, social sciences, humanities — but all of our majors have a fair amount of breadth,” said Dr. Katherine Aubrecht, Sustainability Studies program director and associate professor of chemistry. “Having that breadth recognizes that working in sustainability involves a lot of synergy, and our students are being prepared to work with people from a number of different backgrounds.”
While Stony Brook has contributed much to domestic research on environmental change and sustainability, the University also boasts student researchers and faculty who are working around the world.
Among them are Heather Lynch in the Department of Ecology and Evolution working with colleagues in Antarctica to study penguin populations, an important gauge of climate change and the health of oceans; Dr. Christina Maxis, the principal investigator of the health sciences component of a SUNY-wide research effort to establish a sustainable village and learning community in a 40-acre region of Haiti; and primatologist Pat Wright, who studies the impact of climate change on primate populations in Madagascar.
Stony Brook’s academic offerings in sustainability are supplemented by the administrative Office of Sustainability, which was founded in 2011 with the support of President Stanley to oversee the continuing development of new and existing green measures. This includes everything from the replacement of the campus heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to monitoring energy and water usage, minimizing food waste, managing on-campus recycling and ensuring compliance with state and federal conservation requirements.
With more than 25,000 students enrolled at our 1,039-acre main campus, there is a constant need for efficient transportation, and the University has developed a number of new, sustainable ways to keep up with the demand. To augment our existing transit system, Stony Brook launched the Wolf Ride Bike Share program in 2013, which offers unlimited hour-long bike rentals from 12 strategic locations on campus.
With 78 bikes available, Stony Brook students, staff and visitors have initiated 82,000 rentals since the program’s inception. More than two-thirds of those rentals occurred in 2017 alone, as the program’s popularity has increased across campus.
In addition, there are 17 electric vehicle charging stations located throughout campus that are available for use by students, staff and visitors.
“The new charging stations have been installed in close proximity to the Academic Mall, thereby encouraging our community to utilize plug-in vehicles which have less of an impact on the natural environment,” said SBU Transportation & Parking Site Manager James Ambroise at the time of the installation in 2014.
The University’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2007, four faculty members from SoMAS — Robert Cess, Edmund Chang, Marv Geller, and Minghua Zhang — were named co-recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for their contributions to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2015, Stony Brook was named the No. 4 Environmentally Responsible University in Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges. Many of the newer buildings on campus have achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and work continues on older buildings to ensure the entire campus is LEED certified.
It’s going to take global collaboration to help get our planet back on the right track. But the real work begins at the local level, with individuals and businesses doing their part for the environment. That’s the example Stony Brook is setting for Long Island, for our students, and for all universities.
“The focus on sustainability is one of the key values we uphold at Stony Brook,” President Stanley said. “The determination and hard work put in by the previous generation has made it much simpler for us to create sustainable initiatives on campus today. We are able to build on that legacy, improving those areas that benefit from newer technology, while keeping an eye toward what future developments can offer us. We are continually working toward a healthier, more efficient and sustainable campus, and everyone in our community reaps the rewards.”
— Melissa Arnold