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The Sustainability Action Plan celebrates its first anniversary

Year one welcomed many successful initiatives that will bring the university closer to its environmental goals
November 8, 2021
By Sylvie Babarik

Image of a group of people working on a garden Photo by Julian Haber

During the university’s just-completed Campus Sustainability Month, its first ever, Concordians participated in a variety of activities that touched on areas as diverse as waste management and health and well-being.

The month was packed with events that followed four main themes: wellness and well-being, climate and biodiversity, waste, and food. Some events focused on individual needs and actions while others, like employee training in sustainability, aimed to stimulate culture change on an institutional level.

The end of these events marked one year since Concordia’s Sustainability Action Plan (SAP) was launched to the community. The activities underscored the wide collaboration necessary to meet the SAP’s far-reaching goals.

“Arriving at the plan required participation and planning across the university. Putting it into action takes a real group effort,” says Michael Di Grappa, Concordia’s vice-president of services and sustainability.

“At Concordia, we aspire to have academic experts help operations go beyond standard practice and have service units able to test sustainability theories daily. That’s the kind of feedback loop that will allow us to meet targets on a larger scale, including our commitment to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).”

The 17 UN SDGs encompass a range of social, economic and environmental issues. Many have clear connections to the SAP, such as Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Climate Action.

“Through the Sustainability Action Plan, we’ve been able to align institutional goals with the community-led priorities and on-the-ground initiatives that enable Concordia to improve its own performance as an institution, but also serve as a model to others,” says Pietro Gasparrini, Director of Environmental Health and Safety.

He and his team have been monitoring the implementation of the SAP through key assessments as well as helping to coordinate community engagement around the plan.

Despite another unusual year, the SAP advanced in many vital areas, detailed in the newly published progress report.

“The remote environment brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic did have an unforeseen impact on our activities in year one,” says Cassandra Lamontagne, sustainability coordinator and lead for institutional initiatives like the Sustainability Hub.

“While some of the projects related to the plan were delayed, we have used this year to move forward on the strategies that could still be implemented and to focus on essential planning work that will support more efficient implementation of our five main streams.”

Research action

A working group tasked with developing a proposal for an institute for sustainability research has been meeting since winter 2021. The goal of the institute would be to enhance our strength in sustainability research by expanding our collaborations within and beyond the University.

There were also several remote research-based events over the past year, including Sustainability and the Climate Crisis, Sustainability and the Pandemic and Solve Climate by 2030: Building a green Montreal together.

In terms of curriculum, an inventory of sustainability course content and program-level sustainability learning was conducted. It found that 11 per cent of the courses offered at Concordia include sustainability content. The hiring of a dedicated curriculum-development expert in the near future is expected to bring rates up significantly.

At the same time, the Office of Research compiled an inventory of researchers with sustainability-related interests and performed a review of institutional support for sustainability research at Concordia.

These assessments were completed in support of Concordia’s submission to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS).

Waste action

Zero Waste Concordia completed the rollout of the Zero Waste Office program on Loyola Campus and expanded its outreach activities through more social media educational and engagement campaigns. One of these was led by the Concordia University Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR), which sent out more than 600 creative care packages and guided people through different types of reuse projects.

Straddling research and waste management is the Zero Waste Laboratories initiative. Ongoing consultations with lab managers aim to improve waste and energy performance and are being informed by best practices at other institutions and organizations.

Concordia provided the student-led Concordia Precious Plastics Project (CP3) with an interim campus location while a more permanent home  is established. The site will eventually provide a practical and administrative base for work-study projects and future growth of the plastic-repurposing initiative.

The Office of Sustainability collaborated with Zero Waste Concordia on the first Concordia clean-up — on and off campus. The event — repeated in October — allowed in-person engagement and helped local ecosystems by removing toxic cigarette butts as well as plastic refuse that can enter waterways.

In a time of significant production of COVID-related waste, Concordia decided to fund a mask recycling program for the procedure masks made mandatory by government. The initiative keeps mask components out of the regular waste stream.

Food action

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, most meals consumed during SAP’s first year were off campus, beyond the scope of the university. However, work was advanced on initiatives with an impact now.

For example, the university moved closer to obtaining a Fair Trade Silver Status — notably thanks to the launch of the Fair Trade Ambassadors, a campaign of the student Sustainability Ambassadors Program in the Office of Sustainability. The first cohort is spending the fall learning about fair trade and organizing outreach activities.

As part of an experiential learning projects lead by professors Alan Nash and Jordan LeBel, Concordia Food Services has been developing educational materials and strategies to increase student selection of plant-based menu options in the dining halls.

Finally, Food Services, in collaboration with Université de Laval and the Institut de l’hotellerie du Québec, received government funding to help develop a web application to promote local and sustainable institutional food purchasing practices.

Climate action

As a means of reducing the need to travel for conferences during the pandemic and in an effort to integrate lasting infrastructure that will reduce Concordia’s emissions from travel in the future, Instructional and Information Technology Services installed web conferencing tools through university buildings. In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of speakers and attendees, the measures support greater accessibility of events.

Concordia also completed its third greenhouse-gas inventory — seeking to identify where improvements to energy systems could bring down the institution’s footprint through measures like converting old gas boilers to electric ones over time or switching to renewable natural gas in the interim.

As part of its commitment to green building design and energy efficiency, Concordia recently learned that the Applied Science Hub was awarded LEED Gold certification.

Other projects underway include planning for additional bicycle parking on the campuses, including secure parking options, to encourage more university members to commute by bike.

To learn more about Concordia’s current and future projects, visit the
Sustainability Action Plan web pages. And visit the progress report page to read the full report.

To get involved, visit the Sustainability Hub.


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