Environmental sustainability strategy hopes to embody the Western Experience
By Jason Winders
February 07, 2013
Gitta Kulczycki knows tomorrow won’t be much different from today. In fact, she stresses it will take a whole lot of tomorrows to get to where Western wants to be on environmental sustainability. But that’s no excuse for not getting started.
“It’s the decisions we make today, the intentions we create today, that will make a big difference down the road,” said Western’s vice-president (resources and operations). “Maybe they don’t make any difference today, but it’s the right decision when we look from a longer-term perspective.”
That longer-term perspective just got put in writing for the first time at Western.
Authored by the President’s Advisory Committee on Environment and Sustainability (PACES), Creating a Sustainable Western Experience represents the university’s clearest statement on sustainability to date. Approved by the Board of Governors last week, the full report was released moments afterward and is available at sustainability.uwo.ca.
Kulczycki serves as PACES co-chair, along with Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president (academic).
Setting down both five- and 10-year goals, the strategy stresses the need to embed sustainability into every aspect of campus culture – how the community lives, works and learns. There are few direct prescriptions offered, instead opting to set down 11 goals for where the university wants to be.
Among those goals are items calling for everything from educational opportunities and research pursuits to commitments on purchasing sustainable products and developing green infrastructure on campus. The strategy highlights Western’s continued effort to minimize its ecological footprint while enhancing ecosystem services on campus.
And while the goals are clearly defined, how the university achieves them, Western President Amit Chakma stressed, is up to you.
“There are many signs that sustainability has gained a firm foothold at Western,” Chakma said. “From Purple Bikes and EnviroWestern to the annual Green Awards and our recent energy reduction initiative, our campus has made good strides over the past few years to minimize our impact on the environment. But we need to do more. This report outlines our institutional commitment to sustainability and challenges all faculty, staff and students to make a difference through their personal efforts.”
Kulczycki echoed those sentiments. “I believe if you tell people the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys,’ they’ll figure out the ‘hows.’ It’s at a high enough level to create some ambitious goals and vision that we look to leaders to say ‘how do I make that work in my area?’”
Sustainability is not a ‘new’ concept, per se, for Western.
Western is a signatory to the Council of Ontario Universities’ Formal Declaration of Commitment to Environmental Sustainability, as well as to the Talloires Declaration, a global action plan signed by more than 350 university presidents from 40 countries.
On the ground, Facilities Management has been engaged in numerous energy and recycling initiatives in the works for years. Faculty research – be it in wind, water or energy, among others – has been ongoing. And students have shown keen interest in the subject through programs in disciplines ranging from history and science to business.
“We’ve had people thinking about this for a long time,” Deakin said. “Sometimes we under-report, under-represent the good things we are already doing. This process gave us the opportunity to create a thoughtful, overarching plan into which these initiatives can feed as well as provide us guideposts as we go forward.”
“We’ve done a lot. But we needed a concerted effort, a plan, to pull all the dimensions of sustainability through our community – research, teaching and students as well as operations. We talk about our role of teaching tomorrow’s leaders; sustainability is very much a part of that,” Kulczycki said.
The document is a result of more than a year of campus consultation.
“What excites me about the report was the process of getting to the report – the input, the collaboration with students and staff from every part of campus and the enthusiasm for holding ourselves to account, the willingness to pull together and be evaluated,” Deakin said.
Starting in summer 2011, the IMAGINE 2022 project began when PACES commissioned a 10-year sustainability vision and action plan for Western. Nearly simultaneously, Facilities Management completed the university’s first-ever Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) assessment, a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. Western would earn a Silver ranking in STARS.
In fall 2011, Sustainability Solutions, a Vancouver-based sustainability consulting firm, conducted an independent analysis of Western’s sustainability activities in comparison to its peers. And while it boasted about many activities underway, the report called for increased leadership in the area of sustainability.
Following this analysis, the IMAGINE 2022 project began engaging the Western community on its preferred sustainability directions and priorities. Students, staff, faculty and London residents were invited to contribute ideas in two World Café community forums, a virtual brainstorm, online polls, e-submissions and other on-campus engagement opportunities.
Those collected ideas were all presented to PACES to help develop the plan released last week.
“Campuses are trying some unique, interesting ways to get their campuses involved,” said Lindsay Telfer, associate member of Sustainability Solutions. “Western was no exception.”
Creating a Sustainable Western Experience is definitely unique to Western, Telfer said. In fact, it had to be. “These type of things need to reflect the realities of a given institution, or they will just gather dust on the shelf,” she said. “This document has a definite Western stamp on it.”
She cited items surrounding academic opportunities for students, staff and faculty, not usually the fare for this type of document, as quite pioneering for postsecondary institutions.
She also applauded “the right balance” in the document between quick wins and those larger, cultural changes which take more conversations to decide how the university community wants to move forward.
While every university puts its own “unique twist” on sustainability, Western is not alone in the challenges it faces. All postsecondary institutions – or at least those accepting the sustainability challenge – are facing an uncertain future.
“It says a lot about where Western is – and where it can go,” Telfer said. “It’s all about setting off down the path, charting your course and setting some ambitious goals. By starting really seriously down that path, you’ll be able to see where you want to go.”
This finished document does not flip a magic switch. In fact, the heavy lifting is just getting started.
“The difference tomorrow is nothing. But over the course of time, years, as we set a path embracing certain goals, the difference is phenomenal,” she said.
By way of example, Kulczycki cited Western’s commitment to all new building construction and retrofits achieving a minimum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification.
“Today, making that decision wouldn’t make a difference because I don’t have a building at that point,” she said. “But having made that decision several years ago, we’re starting to see the impact of that as we’re doing renovation and construction. So it’s setting the path that makes the difference in the long run.”
Currently, the university boasts one LEED GOLD certified building (Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Pavilion) and six registered for LEED certification including the McIntosh Gallery, Stevenson Hall/Lawson Hall, the Richard Ivey School of Business (Phase II under construction), Physics and Astronomy Building (under renovation), the Western Centre for Public Health and Family Medicine (under construction) and the new residence (under construction).
“Sustainability is part of the narrative for the students we teach, for the society we live in. You cannot contemplate any of the ‘big issues’ in the world today that don’t include a conversation on sustainability,” Deakin said.
So, where do we go from here?
“We need to raise the level of consciously among our community on what we can do, what we should do,” Deakin continued.
Next steps include the formation of working groups, charged with filling in the on-the-ground details of how to accomplish the overall goals set down in the report. The groups will cover four areas – teaching/learning, operations, community and research.
A sustainability website, sustainability.uwo.ca, has been launched. It will serve be a hub for all things sustainability-related on campus and within the community. Specifically, staff, students, faculty and community members will be able to visit the site to learn about on-campus initiatives; hear about Western’s sustainability accomplishments; find out how to get involved on campus and within the community and find out how to reduce one’s environmental impact.
“Our actions today start making differences in the long term,” Kulczycki said.
SETTING THE GOALS
Authored by the President’s Advisory Committee on Environment and Sustainability (PACES), Creating a Sustainable Western Experience sets down 11 goals, as well as desired five-year outcomes on each, for the Western community. Approved by the Board of Governors last week, the report is available at sustainability.uwo.ca.
- Every member of the Western community – including students, faculty and staff – will have the opportunity for a sustainable working, living and learning environment;
- The profile of sustainability will be elevated on campus, inviting campus-wide collaboration and engagement;
- Every student entering Western will have the opportunity to be exposed to the theory and practice of sustainability;
- Students seeking expertise and knowledge in sustainability will have access to curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels;
- Opportunities will be made available to the entire Western community, and beyond, to acquire education and experience in sustainability topics of interest and relevance;
- Western will encourage and pursue research that promotes sustainability efforts and knowledge at the local, regional and international levels;
- Innovative partnerships will be developed across Western academic disciplines to research and propose solutions to societies most pressing sustainability challenges;
- External collaboration will be encouraged to increase opportunities for trans-disciplinary sustainability research and raise awareness on the scope of Western’s research activities in fields of sustainability;
- Western will minimize its ecological footprint while enhancing ecosystem services on campus;
- Western will endeavour to purchase products and services that meet a comprehensive range of sustainability criteria; and
- Western will solicit and support the development of green infrastructure on campus.
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