1. One of the most effective daily choices we can make to reduce our environmental footprint is to choose plant-based eating, and the five-year food plan includes promotion of plant-based food choices on campus. Does this include promoting it for faculty, staff and alumni at events?
Claudette: Community buy-in is essential for meeting our food plan's goals, particularly with regards to the plant-based food target. Our purchase of meat, poultry, dairy and seafood will only shrink as demand for plant-based ingredients grows. Engaging with faculty and staff on the benefits of plant-based eating will be important part of fostering that demand. We intend to encourage our community's shift toward choosing vegan and vegetarian optionsat events by promoting the university's Sustainable Event Guide and working with the Faculty and Staff Sustainability Ambassadors Program. We will also focus on increasing awareness of existing plant-based options, exploring how food service staff and event coordinators can encourage the selection of vegan and vegetarian options. Finally, it's important to note that our food plan also seeks to offer culturally inclusive food options, which may not always be plant-based but which we will seek to be local and sustainable.
2. In regards to food security, will your plan address the global demand for food driven by expanding population growth and the rising land-use demands around agriculture and food production?
Claudette: In Canada, our challenge has been to protect our farmland from urban sprawl; however, globally speaking, agriculture is the largest single driver of deforestation and severe forest degradation (see WWF – Forest Conversion). Practically speaking, this question goes beyond the scope and power of the Sustainable Food Systems Plan, which focuses on our food system at Concordia. This could, however, be addressed by our researchers or in our curriculum!
1. Will you incorporate waste reduction into your lab facilitiies?
Faisal: Yes, this is a big challenge that we are excited to take on. One of our plan strategies is to start a Green Labs initiative. We've begun reaching out to lab facility managers and have even met with McGill's Green Lab Ambassadors program to explore collaborating and sharing best practices. We'll also be working closely with Environmental Health and Safety to make sure practices are safe and that hazardous waste is properly managed.
2. Is there a plan in place to reduce the amount of biological / chemical waste generated in teaching and research labs?
Faisal: Tackling lab waste is one of our strategies, and that means we will be looking at the full spectrum of waste types generated in those spaces, including biological and chemical waste, to see what kind of alignment we can bring with our overall objective of waste reduction. If teaching and research experiments and facilities can be designed in a way that reduces unnecessary biochemical waste, then we’ll support those efforts through the plan.
3. Will the Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR) remain downtown-only or will there be opportunities for the Loyola community benefit from something similar?
Faisal: Great question. We would love to recreate a satellite of CUCCR at Loyola! For now, perhaps we can start by setting up reuse drop-off points at Loyola. We'll make sure to bring this up with our team.
4. I'm a student in Fine Arts and we generate a lot of waste. Will there be specific plans developed for faculties who create a lot of waste like Fine Arts?
Faisal: One of our key initiatives at Zero Waste Concordia in FAcilities Management is the Concordia University Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR). It's a space that collects materials from around campus that you normally wouldn't be able to compost or recycle, like wood scraps or plastic materials. They've been working with members of Fine Arts to develop an educational plan specific to Fine Arts involving a series of workshops and a collection of practices specific to Fine Arts departments and the materials generated there. As part of the Zero Waste Plan, we will also be encouraging different departments, faculties and sectors to develop their own zero waste plans and policies. We want to encourage groups to reflect, they can consult with us and we can help them perform an audit or get a snapshot of their waste practices, and then develop a plan or policy from there.
1. Are emissions being recorded every year, and are they publically available?
Cassandra: We typically record our emissions every 3-4 years and our GHG emissions inventory is publically available on our Sustainable Energy initiatives page. Now that our Plan is launched we will be measuring our emissions more frequently and seeking to include new sources of Scope 3 (indirect) emissions, such as from research/business travel or from our investments.
2. How will COVID affect measurement of sustainability metrics such as emissions from travel? Will emissions from commuting also consider the impact of working from home?
Cassandra: COVID is forcing us to reconsider the ways in which we analyse our sustainability impact, including our emissions. Depending on whether we perform a GHG inventory for the COVID year(s), we may need to consider off-campus emissions as part of our impact. Additionally, if we perform any waste audits while our community is working from home, we would need to develop a way to estimate waste generated by our community off-site.
3. How can you apply for the sustainable investing practicum?
Amr: By taking FINA 455D (Sustainable Investing) in Winter 2021. Applicants are selected from students registered in this class.
4. Will funding be available for emissions offsets from travel?
Cassandra: We are looking into this possibility and will be researching various institutional models for effective, beneficial and meaningful offset programs.
5. Will Concordia think of our campuses in a more holistic way, rather than building by building, so that we can reach our targets more efficiently?
Cassandra: Ultimately, our climate plan will be adressed at Concordia-wide, campus, building, and departmental levels. The section of our climate plan entitled "Incorporate climate planning into our governance and operations" aims to ensure that actions are effectively integrated at all levels.
1. As a staff member, how can I get involved in research on sustainability? I work in Fine Arts.
Paula: The first thing to do is to find out about what different faculty members and graduate students are doing in your area. You can use Explore Concordia to locate faculty members diong different kinds of research. You can use sustainability as a keyword to find profs researching in sustainability, and you can contact these professors and their graduate students. There are many ways to get involved in these projects. In Fine Arts there are many researchers looking at sustainability, so I'm sure you'll find someone to collaborate with!
1. As a professor, what kind of resources might we have to incorporate sustainability into existing courses? I teach in Biology.
Sandra: There will be resources available through the Centre for Teaching & Learning to assist with capturing, or developing, sustainability learning outcomes. There are also some resources to support new programs.
1. How can students take part in the actions of the Sustainability Action Plan and get involved in the plan moving forward?
Cassandra: Students are pivotal in reaching our sustainability goals! Students served on each of the stream plan committees and will continue to participate in the Sustainability Governance Framework. The new Sustainability Living Lab, when it's launched, will provide avenues for students to get involved with projects that have a meaningful impact on the Plan-- including through new project funding! Our student Sustainability Ambassadors are equipped as educators and leaders on important sustainability topics, and will be a key component in advancing the goals and targets of our Sustainability Action Plan-- learn more here. As we progress there will be new and exciting ways for students take a front seat on steering our efforts toward our targets!
Claudette: Some simple but important ways of supporting the food plan are to choose local, certified sustainable and/or plant-based food options and encourage those around you to do the same. If you are a member of a student club or association, align your group's sustainabilitiy policy with the plan's objectives and if such a policy does not exist, propose one! Become involved with a food group on campus, like the Concordia Greenhouse, Concordia Food Coalition, or the Fair Trade Steering Committee, which is leading the effort to achieve a next-level commitment to fair trade on campus. Concordia Food Services also welcomes student representation on its Sustainable Food Service Advisory Committee, which monitors progress in our food service provider's sustainability efforts. Check out the Sustainable Food initiatives page to learn more.
2. Do you have thoughts or recommendations on how we can use our time during the pandemic (working from home, forced digital processes, etc.) creatively and generatively as an opportunity to advance our sustainability goals?
Amr: Take a look at the contents of your personal investments and make sure your portfolio is "sustainable". If you have a financial advisor, ask them about how to make your portfolio sustainable. If you don't, explore some of the available self-directed sustainable investment options.
Cassandra: I am using the time to delve into books, audiobooks and podcasts that make me feel connected to the topics and to research sustainable alternatives for common challenges like reducing food waste and online purchasing. I think it's also important to balance the overload of our pressing issues with a focus on wellness, the importance of which can't be overestimated which is all too often neglected.
Claudette: Following the advice of the Canadian Food Guide and EAT-Lancet Commission, you can support the food plan's goals by practicing good eating habits at home: cook with more plant-based food and less meat, explore ways to reduce your food waste and support local, certified sustainable producers whenever possible.
Pedro: The importance of digital pathways cannot be overemphasized. One of the actions of the research plan is to create a digital research/community portal that will allow linking members of the communitiy with the research and expertise of Concordia on sustainability. Moreover, a group of researchers are partnering with Future Earth to launch a scientific training program for students at the intersection of environmental science and digital innovation: Leadership in Environmental and Digital Innonvation for Sustainability (LEADS). Please feel free to contact us. Finally I think is important to become aware of the networks and digital resources for sustainability. These resources are not well centralized at the moment but hopefuly a future digital portal will allow exactly that so that members of Concordia and the community abroad will be able to have the support of this digital initiatives.
3. With COVID and working/studying from home, how do you plan to engage people in the plan?
Cassandra: Some of the strategies of the plan can go ahead even under COVID. Many research, curriculum, and planning activities can take place remotely, and important assessments (such as of our natural gas infrastructure) can be performed. We will also be offering a number of training opportunities through the Student Sustainability Ambassador and Faculty/Staff Sustainability Amabssador programs so that when the campus re-opens we can hit the ground running! As well as continuing to offer events and activities (such as the at-home waste audit and #helpmegozerowaste campaign) that engage our community around sustainability. Please sign up for the sustainability newsletter to stay connected on this!
4. What is the Sustainability Living Lab and how can students get involved?
Sandra: Through the curriculum plan, we want to create opportunities that are experiential-learning oriented and not always in the "for-credit" space in the curriculum. Our students are terrific citizens and always looking for new opportunities to engage in different kinds of learning experiences, so we want to think not just of the formal classroom-oriented learning experiences but also of those informal experiences where learning happens by recognizing spaces where students can extend their learning into those opportunities. We have so many ideas and lots of people are eager to contribute in that area.
Cassandra: In the context of our partnership with the Sustainability Action Fund, we're going to be offering funds every year for new projects that address the goals and targets of the plan. We'll be promoting that and launching in winter 2021. We will have a number of ideas ready for people if they want to tackle those, or people can bring their own ideas forward. There are several key aspects to the Living Lab-- we want submitting groups to have multi-stakeholder teams, a mixture of students and staff or students and faculty. There need to be students involved because we need there to be an experiential learning component where students can tie in with their learning somehow. It's also important to create the connections to have our own researchers contriute to the plan goals and targets over time, and that can mean offering our campus as a way for them to test solutions to sustainability problems while helping us in our own sustainability efforts.
1. Are there joint actions with other universities, or even internationally? It's important to join forces on sustainability!
Cassandra: At the Office of Sustainability we try to find ways to tie in with other institutions so that we can learn from each other, such as through the Réseau universitaire québécois en développement durable (RUQDD). Formally, Concordia has recently joined the United Nations University Global Coalition and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Canada to collaborate with other universities and organizations on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. All of these align with and contribue to our Plan goals and targets, and new projects under the Sustainability Living Lab could involve external partners as well.
Pedro: There are certainly lots of partnerships with faculty, research groups and centers within Concordia and abroad. In the research plan, one of our strategies is to create a portal of sustainability research that enables us to map these existing partnerships to make them evident to everyone.
2. Can the sustainability plan be a vehicle to boost our standing in the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking?
Cassandra: Yes! Our Food, Waste, Climate, Research, and Curriculum plans, as they are implemented, will all contribute to our performance in the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Measuring our progress towards our plan goals, targets and strategies will give us plenty of information to submit. For the THE World University Rankings, which does not focus specifically on sustainability, the Sustainability Action Plan will be one of many strategic endeavors at the university contributing to a boost in our ranking.
3. In terms of governance, are we looking to develop a more egalitarian culture in our employment practices as part of this plan? Lots of people have short-term or casual contracts which is not sustainable in the long-term.
Anne: Equitable employment practices are a key component of sustainability at Concordia. We also need to acknowledge the cyclical nature of some work at the university (e.g. back-to-school rushes creates the need for short term additional help; special research projects funded by external agencies will require specialized technical staff for a limited amount of time). Concordia prides itself on being named a top employer in Montreal for several years now. We take this recognition seriously and have worked closely with our 13 collective bargaining units to provide the best possible conditions for our faculty, staff and student employees. As the nature of work evolves, we collaborate with those units to ensure that we continue to provide a welcoming, supportive and sustainable employment environment for all.
4. What does sustainability really mean in the context of this plan? Some sustainability actions can be subject to "green-washing"; how will Concordia critically approach sustainable futures?
Cassandra: At Concordia, we have adopted the below definition of sustainability. Unless otherwise noted in the plans, this is the definition in use. (Learn more about our definition of sustainability and the guiding principles and commitments we adhere to in our Sustainability Policy.)
Sustainability at Concordia is a mindset and a process that leads to reducing our ecological footprint and enhancing social well-being while maintaining economic viability both on and off campus. This process of sustainability is developed through a governance system based on shared vision and responsibility that fulfills Concordia’s current needs without compromising the needs of future generations. To be sustainable in our decisions and activities is to take a long-term perspective, recognize resource capacities and balance the interconnected nature of our environment, society and economy.
Pedro: This is a huge and important point. There are a lots of definitions, targets and future sustainability scenarios. I would rather not answer them as an individual faculty but rather point out that the Concordia sustainability site has good and appropriate definitions in which the plan was built on. In the research plan, we also defined sustainability research as "scholarship that enhances out understanding and ability to "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Brundtland 1987, p. 161).
Sandra: On the curriculum committee, we found it useful to work with both the university's definition and this definition from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE):
AASHE defines sustainability in a pluralistic and inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations. Major sustainability challenges include (but are not limited to) climate change, global poverty and inequality, natural resource depletion, and environmental degradation. To identify additional sustainability challenges, it may be helpful to reference the principles outlined in the Earth Charter and/or the targets embedded in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
5. Is there a risk that COVID might cut into sustainability funding?
Michael: The University has set aside some preliminary funds to support the Sustainability Action Plan, and additional future allocations will depend on the requirements of the plan strategies (prioritized in the plan according to feasibility and potential impact). We will address COVID-19 and its impacts separately.
6. How do you see COVID and post-COVID uncertainty affecting your plans? What are the opportunities and challenges?
Cassandra: COVID has already significantly affected the Plan! We originally aimed to launch the Plan on Earth Day 2020 (April 22), but were required to shift our attention to the urgent demands of delivering on our core mandate of teaching, learning and research under the new circumstances. Additionally, there were a number of strategies originally slated for Year 1 (2020-2021) that are now being considered for Year 2 or later. That being said, there are a number of opportunities that have come to light. One part of our climate plan, for instance, was to equip and engage our community around remote work and conferencing so that we reduce our emissions from commuting and from research or business travel. This strategy will be significantly easier now! Our delivery of a nearly completely on-line curriculum is providing the opportunity to test a number of innovative teaching solutions that could be useful for our Curriculum plan moving forward. The critical volume of new types of waste and waste disposal practices generated under COVID has required us to reassess our operations to ensure sustainable avenues for these waste streams and to begin incorporating percieved safety concerns into our waste strategy to create a "culture change" around waste at Concordia.