Since COVID-19 first struck, the environmental talk of the town has been how to take what we have learned/experienced and amplify/extend it when everything is back to the new normal. To this end, a University at Buffalo (UB) class has been busy studying ways that we can keep carbon emissions down to a minimum, which has been an end result of a society that is practicing self isolation measures at home. That worldwide lockdown has equated to much fewer cars on the roads, which, in turn has resulted in a cleaner environment. But when all is said and done, and the global economy wakes from its slumber, drivers will pick up where they left off… unless things – people – change.
Students in UB’s Carbon Reduction Challenge course have created proposals to help companies and organizations cut carbon footprints – a task that is far from easy, but more and more business leaders are waking up the fact that it is necessary.
A couple of the suggestions from the student groups include enhanced telecommuting and turning down the heat and air conditioning in empty buildings, as more people work from home. The latter would also help businesses save money in heating and cooling costs. The class discovered that while many of the businesses they contacted were not immediately keen on telecommuting at first, they soon changed their tune in light of COVID-19. Other companies learned of tertiary telecommuting benefits, such as providing flexibility for employees with children, or even saving on valuable train/car/bike commute times. People that work from home can get a jumpstart on their work in the morning – a nice early Zoom call is a great way to ensure that workers are up and at ’em. Workers can also spend more valuable time with their loved ones when they are not spending so many hours traveling to and from work. One group even suggested working from home a set number of days per week, month, or year.
Twitter has announced that it will allow most of its employees work from home moving forward, post-pandemic.
“Our partner organizations — and the entire world — have rapidly reduced their carbon footprints during the pandemic. We can learn from these changes to develop strategies to reduce our carbon footprint long-term, but that avoid negative economic impacts while also aiming to increase social justice and workforce diversity,” says Elizabeth Thomas, PhD, assistant professor of geology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, who has been co-teaching the Carbon Reduction Challenge with Ryan McPherson, chief sustainability officer at UB.
Our partner organizations — and the entire world — have rapidly reduced their carbon footprints during the pandemic.
Partners in this year’s Challenge included three companies that were connected with the class via the Western New York Sustainable Business Roundtable: Curbell Inc., Harmac Medical Products Inc., and Rich Products Corporation; and three local organizations: Erie County, the Williamsville Central School District, and the Buffalo branch of the New York State Department of Transportation. One student group teamed up with each entity.
“There is no doubt, we are living in strange and challenging times,” McPherson says. “Our lives have been upended, some of us have lost loved ones and the delicacy of our planet has been put on full display for all to see and feel. But this is also a time of great learning, adaptation and evolving.”
Students’ suggestions included:
- Adjusting the thermostat to save energy
- Composting organic waste from dining areas
- Continuing telecommuting through a wellness program that supports health and happiness by enabling office employees to work from home a set number of days per year
“I know it’s a time of crisis, but I believe there’s always something good taken out of any circumstance no matter how negative,” says Daniel Lussier, a senior in environmental geoscience. “This pandemic has presented our world a new opportunity to take a different path than the one we were on before. We can change the way we operate — we just need the will and courage to do such a thing. My hope is that we will enter a world more in tune with nature, and much more sustainable after this crisis is done.”
This pandemic has presented our world a new opportunity to take a different path than the one we were on before.
One of the biggest takeaways for the partners was having the students calculate carbon savings, which is something that is not easy to do, and is a process that often times slips through the cracks when companies have bigger fish to fry.
“Curbell’s sustainability programs have been around a long time,” says Mark Shriver, director of safety and environmental affairs for Curbell Inc., the parent company of Curbell Plastics and Curbell Medical, which manufacture performance plastics and hospital devices such as pillow speakers. “When you get to a certain point in your journey, all the ‘low-hanging fruit’ is gone. It becomes more and more difficult to progress. The students did a nice job of assessing our operations, scrutinizing the data, learning our culture and coming up with ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations, brainstorming sessions and seeing this team work.”