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The USC’s Sustainability Policy Debrief: “Environmental Sustainability: Student-Driven Solutions to the Ongoing Climate Crisis” 

Written by: Brooklin Begg


About This Brief:

The University Student Council’s policy paper, “Environmental Sustainability: Student-Driven Solutions to the Ongoing Climate Crisis,” was introduced and passed in 2021 to call out the University’s participation in environmentally unsustainable practices. When Western University has student funding as the foundation of its finances, the University needs to act with the student body's interests in mind. This brief will explain Western University's environmental practices and how the USC addresses the institution’s practices. 



Energy Use and Sourcing:

Western’s involvement with environmental sustainability has progressed in recent years, however, still remains limited. As an “ever-expanding campus,” it is vital that the University prioritizes sustainable and renewable practices within future buildings and places on campus. Major institutions, such as the University of Guelph, the University of British Columbia, Concordia University, the University of Toronto, and Simon Fraser University, are steps ahead with divesting from fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging processes. 

 

Western’s Facilities Management has been implementing recommendations from Western’s 2019-2024 Energy Conservation and Demand Management report, such as adding 8 LEED® certified buildings and an updated plan for water system management. 8LEED® certification, meaning “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” means a building has been built with sustainability in mind (Canada Green Building Council). An 8LEED® building has lower carbon emissions and reduced operating costs. From the 2019-2024 Energy Conservation and Demand Management report, only one goal had not been implemented. The unachieved goal identified reducing overall energy use by 4% from the initial rate of the 2012 percentage. 

 

The USC believes that Western’s implementation of sustainable business practices is a social responsibility and a wise financial decision. Sustainable practices within an institution stimulates business growth and increases returns on capital. For example, the 2016 Harvard Business Review reports that the top 100 sustainable global organizations experienced higher sales growth, return on assets, and cash flows than less sustainable enterprises between 2006 and 2010. 

 

Campus Ecosystems:

Being located in London, Ontario, means that Western University should actively participate in recognizing the city’s forestry. Campus overlaps with the regions home to various species of trees, meaning a comprehensive strategy outlining the University’s responsibility to cultivate biodiversity is needed. Additionally, Western University needs to further the recognition of Indigenous land and voices on campus. This should be done by collaborating with the Indigenous Students’ Association to make London’s natural heritage known. Western’s “Open Space Strategy,” published in April 2018, is a document detailing an overview of improving courtyards and botany on campus. Still, it does not mention conservation-oriented projects where Indigenous voices are included. In response, a “Natural Heritage Strategy” is needed to identify room for improvement, infrastructure upgrades, stewarding campus voices, and a biodiversity census to track animal species on campus. 

 

Transportation:

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions means a commitment to accessible, affordable, and safe transportation methods. Western University must encourage and promote public and environmentally sustainable transportation methods; however, long wait times, inaccessibility, and lack of capacity result in students relying on personal transportation. By collaborating with the City of London, the University can work on its relationship with the LTC to support public transportation as a more reliable and affordable service. Furthermore, cycling and walking infrastructure needs greater investment and more accessible options for those unable to travel the distance between buildings by foot. The USC suggests implementing the provincial government’s e-scooter pilot program. Furthermore, with many opportunities for Western and the City of London to further encourage active transportation, there must also be an emphasis on pedestrian and cyclist safety. Such an example could be creating more on-street bike routes and completing gaps in the sidewalk network. 

 

Waste Management:

Waste management is a fundamental component of averting the climate crisis, and Western University needs to assure students that it is participating in comprehensive waste diversion strategies. The University needs to work on a step-by-step plan for incorporating the Green Bin program on campus, including where bins will be located, the number of bins available on campus, how students can participate, and the composting process after the waste is taken. Currently, Green Bins are only featured in eateries and residence dining halls (Western Sustainability, 2024). 

 

Investing in a paper towel recycling program will further benefit sustainability on campus, as some paper towels are not properly recycled or made out of recyclable material. Furthermore, although Western has a Sustainable Procurement Policy outlining how the environment will be cared for at Western, it does not include any reporting standards to track progress or enforcement methods to ensure goals are met. Finally, the University’s waste diversion goal of 90% by 2022 has not yet been met, for we currently stand at 50% (Western Sustainability, 2024).

 

Resource Procurement and Usage:

Paper, food and beverages, furniture, electronics, cleaning products, and other materials must all be used and disposed of sustainably. In terms of paper usage, Western is currently

heavily reliant on paper and print materials for learning, testing, and assessments. Increasing online learning services can reduce paper waste, and the Senate should encourage mandating paper usage by no longer requiring hard-copied assignments. 

 

Regarding food and beverages, students should be able to contribute to the London community by having locally sourced and ethically grown food and beverage options on campus. Additionally, implementing container and reusable mug programs will reduce single-use plastics. Finally, Western needs to begin considering its material purchases' financial, material, and

environmental impacts. 

 

Sustainable and recyclable materials included in furniture can help decrease the University’s carbon footprint, including donation or drop-off spots. Western University should have battery and technology drop-off bins in areas students frequent so that all types of recycling can be more accessible to students

 

Institutional Policies, Programs, and Practices:

Due to the ongoing climate crisis, Western must be environmentally conscious in its procedures. By being transparent, the University can establish its commitment to environmental sustainability. Consulting with the Indigenous people and local conservation areas before inducing policy will ensure care moving forward. Additionally, sustainability tracking and reporting should be made public on Western’s website and should be done annually. A comprehensive plan that outlines research tracking mechanisms, envisions the future, and creates achievable goals should be made. Western University should create a “Green Revolving Fund” (investing $1 million) for research and project ideas to incentivize sustainability on campus.

 

Education and Research:

Universities should have various pathways for the field of sustainability, including interdisciplinary approaches for education surrounding the topic of environmental sustainability. Each faculty should have ways for students to contribute to combatting the ongoing climate crisis, either by providing in-class opportunities for education about the land or by collaborating with external services for projects. The Faculty of Science does not provide many options for students to specialize in environmental studies, and these limited opportunities contribute to the misinformation about environmental practices. Additionally, there are limited opportunities for Indigenous contributions to research regarding sustainability. Indigenous communities and scholars must be included more within our administration and education about the land. 


 

Bibliography:


Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC), “LEED,” Accessed February 11, 2024. https://www.cagbc.org/our-work/certification/leed/


Climate Crisis Coalition, “A Bold, Green Future,” Accessed February 1, 2022. 

 

St. Clair River Trail, “Carolinian Life Zone,” St. Clair River Trail, Accessed February 1, 2022, http://www.stclairrivertrail. com/carolinian-life-zone/. 

 

Tensey Whelen and Carly Fink, “The Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability,” Harvard Business Review, 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/10/the-comprehensive-business-case-for-sustainability.

 

The Centre for Land and Water Stewardship, “The Uniqueness of Carolinian Canada,” University of Guelph, 1994, https://caroliniancanada.ca/legacy/FactSheets_CCUniqueness.htm.


Western Sustainability. “Waste Reduction & Diversion.” Sustainability. Accessed April 2, 2024. https://sustainability.uwo.ca/Campus/waste_reduction/index.html

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