For nearly 50 years, Binghamton University has been active in the areas of environmental and sustainability research. Now, BU is tied in first place nationwide for Sustainability Research, and these efforts are being recognized.
The designation came from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) yearly Sustainable Campus Index (SCI) rankings. Although they were released in August 2019, BU President Harvey Stenger recently announced the ranking at the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum held on Oct. 1 and at a BU Council meeting on Oct. 18. BU shares the number-one spot with four other universities: Florida State University and three University of California campuses: Irvine, Merced and San Diego.
The SCI recognizes colleges and universities that are top performers in 17 sustainability categories. Ultimately, they are given scores and ranked for each category including designations for curriculum, transportation and energy use, according to the AASHE guidelines. These scores are tallied up and used to give each university a rating of either platinum, gold, silver or bronze — BU currently has a silver rating with an overall score of 61.82 out of 100.
Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology and environmental studies, director of environmental studies and chair of the Sustainable Communities Transdisciplinary Area of Excellence (TAE), attributes much of the University’s success in sustainability research to the TAE program, which has brought faculty from different backgrounds together to work on various research projects.
“The sustainable communities TAE has greatly assisted in supporting and growing research in sustainability,” Lipo wrote in an email. “The TAE supports seed grants, runs lecture series, has research projects and generally provides a way [for] faculty to talk about the many dimensions of sustainability. That has really made a difference in our work.”
Lipo’s work in sustainability research has been conducted jointly with Timothy de Smet, a research assistant professor of anthropology at BU and Pamela Mischen, an associate professor of public administration. Their research focuses on Easter Island and the sustainability of its inhabitants.
There are a number of other professors involved in the sustainable communities TAE program, including Louisa Holmes, an assistant professor of environmental studies and geography, and Jessica Hua, an assistant professor of biology.
“Louisa Holmes has been examining the factors that lead to differences in the health of communities that are the result of economics, education and access to resources,” Lipo wrote. “Jessica Hua looks at the effects of pesticides and road salt on amphibians and their ecologies.”
Holmes has also worked on sustainability efforts directly related to the University.
“Examples include the ongoing development of Nuthatch Hollow, and research of the Smart Energy research centers and the Center for Integrated Watershed [Studies],” Holmes wrote in an email. “The BU faculty and President Stenger ratified a sustainability plan last year, for which one goal is to increase the number of faculty on BU’s campus engaging in sustainability research.”
Smart and sustainable energy has been a focus of research at BU, especially in the First-Year Immersion (FRI) program, which connects freshman students with hands-on research in a number of areas.
Liliana Karam, a research assistant professor of the smart energy stream of the FRI program, said she believes in the importance of sustainable energy research at BU.
“It’s really exciting to be part of a university that is taking sustainability so seriously, and it’s great that Binghamton [University] has been recognized in its efforts,” Karam wrote in an email. “Students are looking for ways to improve the optical properties of materials, decrease their toxicity and increase their stability to facilitate commercial implementation in energy-related devices. Other projects include investigations of new materials for next generation batteries.”
Julia Berliner, a senior double-majoring in biology and environmental studies, said BU is dedicated to sustainability research and has provided students interested in the field with valuable research opportunities.
“There are so many labs to choose from that are doing research that’s interesting and accessible to undergraduates in the environmental [studies] program,” Berliner said.
But Berliner also said many students are unaware of BU’s efforts and their position on the list.
“I haven’t seen anything about this,” Berliner said. “I’m proud of it, so I wish they’d show it off more.”
Ryan Flood Taylor, a junior majoring in environmental studies, shares similar concerns, and hopes the University’s new placement on the SCI list will bring increased funding and recognition.
“I feel the University should do a better job advertising our success in sustainability research,” Taylor said. “It will help us secure more notoriety and funding.”