Big plans and precise projects
How do you engage university community members in sustainability initiatives when most cannot come to campus or gather?
“To begin with, in the spring and summer of 2020, we pushed ahead with the drafting and validating of the Sustainability Action Plan. We wanted to make sure everything we put in writing was achievable, as well as aspirational,” says Cassandra Lamontagne, coordinator of Office of Sustainability, a unit under Environmental Health and Safety.
The Sustainability Action Plan was the results of months of work by university community members who provided recommendations on five main streams: food systems, climate change, waste, curriculum and research.
Those were compiled and presented to Concordia’s Board of Governors in May 2020 for approval of the budgetary requirements. Implementation details for the first year were then determined by operational teams. The final steps were publishing the plan and presenting it to the community in October 2020.
“We created a bilingual subsite of concordia.ca so that we could update the community about how we’re doing over the five years of the plan,” Lamontagne reports.
Creative reuse and sharing
In normal times, Facilities Management’s Zero Waste Concordia and the Concordia University Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR) work with departments to reduce waste. In the case of CUCCR, one way is to make available to artists some of those salvaged materials. But with most Faculty of Fine Arts students and instructors stuck at home in the first year of the pandemic, the team decided to reach out.
“The dean of students got the ball rolling with the inspiration and money for postage. Then the CUCCR team created colourful care packages and filled them with five categories of materials from which people could choose: sew, collage, tinker/build, draw and mystery,” says Faisal Shennib, Zero Waste environmental specialist.
“Getting something fun from Concordia created a sense of community among the 600-plus recipients. Then CUCCR took it a step further and held a series of remote workshop so that people could create together in early 2021.”
In connection with the Sustainability Action Plan and the Sustainability Action Fund, the Office of Sustainability supported the launch of a new Sustainability Living Lab in spring 2021. The program aims to support community participation in the action plan while increasing experiential learning opportunities for students.
“Our community of students, faculty and staff have so many great ideas. The Living Lab is a structure that will make it easier for them to put their ideas into action,” says Lamontagne.
One of the first in the ground was a new pollinator garden, planted in mid-2021 on the Loyola Campus. The project was designed through student projects in Fall 2020 and earned funding and other support from a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund-Canada.
Another project that allowed community members to gather while respecting the rules of COVID distancing was the spring 2021 community cleanup.
“The Zero Waste Concordia team and the Office of Sustainability collaborated to organize teams on campus and assisted those who wanted to join in from other locations. It was amazing how a task like picking up trash could help us create community in a time of so much isolation,” says Lamontagne.
Within the bags were too many disposable face masks. In response, and because of the government’s requirement for use of procedure masks on campus, Zero Waste Concordia began a new recycling program on campus.
“In a case like this, where we had no control over generating a large quantity of waste, we researched our options and found that recycling disposable masks was our most ecological sound option,” says Shennib.
Looking for more on sustainability?
Other activities included a spring 2021 biodiversity scavenger hunt, a webinar on urban biodiversity and a seed giveaway. Since it’s a lot to follow, the Office of Sustainability launched a monthly newsletter in 2020.
“Everyone can sign up to get a sense of how much Concordia’s sustainability advocates are doing and how to get involved,” says Lamontagne. “The COVID pandemic may have kept us apart physically, but because of the climate crisis, we need to stick together in other ways.”