Barbara Buffaloe poses for portraits

Barbara Buffaloe, the sustainability manager of Columbia, sits in her office Tuesday. Buffaloe, an MU graduate, has worked for the city for almost six years.

Who's Running This Town? is a series of short profiles introducing Missourian readers to leaders in Columbia city government.

COLUMBIA — In 2010, Barbara Buffaloe spotted an opening in the city's Office of Sustainability, a new department Columbia had created. She got the job and has kept it for the past six years.

Buffaloe grew up in Springfield, Illinois, and earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in environmental design at MU. She was an adjunct instructor for the Department of Architectural Studies and worked for University Extension doing energy efficiency and conservation outreach work in central Missouri.

Her career aspirations began at age 10, when she visited Hearst Castle in California with her family. Hearst Castle was designed by a female architect.

"I thought I was going to be an architect," said Buffaloe, reminiscing. While visiting Hearst Castle, she thought to herself, "Well that means I could design something beautiful like this."

When she attended MU, she volunteered with the city as a member of the Environment and Energy Commission and witnessed how big of an impact sustainability can have on a city.

After graduating, Buffaloe worked for an architectural firm and helped design renovations that converted abandoned banker's lofts in St. Louis into livable spaces.

"It was so cool to go into an old building and transform it into something livable," Buffaloe said.

Buffaloe said it was as if bankers had taken their money and left everything else. The letters used for bank signs were scattered across the floor, and random items were strewn throughout the vacant buildings.

Buffaloe soon transitioned into a career in government, where she felt she could make a bigger difference in people's lives.

"While I'm a good designer, I thought I could make a more positive impact for my community if I stepped into a role in government that supported my community," Buffaloe said.

Outside the office, reading is Buffaloe's favorite pastime. Nowadays, thanks to her two toddlers, ages 5 and 3, she spends a lot of time reading children's books. She said her children are "just hilarious," like her and her husband, Luke Buffaloe.

Buffaloe and her family share a philosophy of life that emphasizes fun and humor.

Buffaloe's favorite food is breakfast tacos, and her favorite celebrity is Tina Fey from the show "30 Rock" and formerly of "Saturday Night Live." As a senior in high school, she was voted best personality.

"That's my claim to fame, you could say," Buffaloe said with a laugh.

Working in local government has taught Buffaloe patience. Not every idea can be implemented immediately in government, and some may not get proper support. She is proud of helping the city achieve $120,000 in yearly energy savings. She said she also has helped increase energy efficiency by 13 percent over the past five years. The city's goal is to get to 20 percent by 2020.

"Sustainability is such a broad spectrum of ideas and impacts. You can feel overwhelmed that you haven't fixed it all," Buffaloe said.

Buffaloe said Columbia residents should know that despite the fact that her job is to push residents to become more energy efficient, she doesn't cast judgment or obsess over those who don't recycle or practice energy savings.

An exciting part of Buffaloe's work has been helping to create social equity by bringing older homes up to modern energy efficiency standards and saving people money.

Buffaloe's office space has a few personal items that demonstrate her quirky sense of humor.

"Go where the Buffaloe roam" is the text covering a photo of a Buffaloe that hangs on her office wall. Her favorite office poster is from the American Institute of Architects. Featuring a large green field with a footprint superimposed over it, it illustrates the institute's campaign "Walk the Walk: Architects Leading the Sustainable Evolution."

Buffaloe said her main source of stress is the "whirlwind of the day to day," the everyday interactions and requests for information that come while trying to keep pace with city goals and workflow.

Buffaloe joked that having an office close to Sycamore, her favorite restaurant, helps with the stress.

Supervising editor Scott Swafford.

  • Missourian reporter, fall 2015. Studying Convergence Journalism. Contact me at: or at the newsroom at 882-5720

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