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Online event focuses on Concordia’s engagement with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

NOV. 29: 5 guest speakers will help mark the start of a Voluntary University Review of current and potential SDG contributions
November 24, 2021
Graham Carr: “The SDGs challenge us as a university, and our society, to think holistically and work collectively toward sustainable futures.” | Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Concordia President Graham Carr: “The SDGs challenge us to think holistically and work collectively toward sustainable futures.” | Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Adopted at the United Nations in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a roadmap for promoting prosperity while protecting the planet. The question is, what do they mean for universities, for Canada and for Canada’s Indigenous communities?

On November 29, Concordia President Graham Carr is hosting a virtual SDG launch event, open to the public, that will answer these questions. The event features five special guests:

  • John McArthur, senior fellow and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution, based in Washington, D.C.
  • Margaret Biggs, chair of the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa
  • Sarah Mendelson, head of the Washington D.C.-based Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University
  • Éliane Ubalijoro, executive director of Sustainability in the Digital Age and director of the Canadian Global Hub for Future Earth, based at Concordia
  • Danika Littlechild, assistant professor of law and legal studies at Carleton University

The SDGs, says Carr, provide the university with an important interconnected framework that encourages partnership and collaboration to achieve common goals.

“The SDGs challenge us as a university, and our society, to think holistically and work collectively toward sustainable futures,” he says.

“The pandemic has underscored the serious inadequacies of our global capacity to collectively address a major threat to our lives and livelihoods. It reminds us of the urgency of overcoming these kinds of major disruptions that we are likely to face under climate change, for instance, and the SDGs are a vitally important tool in this work.”

In addition to climate and other traditional sustainability targets, the Global Goals, as the SDGs are called, include initiatives around social justice, inclusivity, the economy, strengthening institutions and fostering collaboration on sustainable development across sectors and organizations.

Concordia’s SDG commitment will lead to transformational changes in its teaching, research and operations. It will influence a rethinking of existing course curriculum and the creation of new courses, fresh research opportunities, and strategic collaborations with other institutions and community groups. There has already been solid buy-in from other Canadian universities and research funding agencies.

Volunteer University Review

The November 29 event marks the beginning of a process to assess Concordia’s current contributions to the SDGs, and to strategize about how to more deeply engage the Global Goals. This self-assessment process is called a Voluntary University Review (VUR).

VURs are modelled on processes already undertaken by countries and cities to gauge their SDG performance. Businesses and universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University, have begun similar self-assessments in recent years.

The VUR will draw on an understanding of Concordia’s SDG-related activities gained from participation in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. Earlier this year, Concordia placed 62nd in the world overall and in the top 25 internationally with respect to activities related to reducing inequalities, taking action to fight climate change and building sustainable cities and communities.

Concordia’s VUR is being led by the Office of the President and the offices of the Provost and Vice-President, Academic; Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies; and Vice-President, Services and Sustainability. A 22-person SDG steering committee is helping to guide the work.

“Our Voluntary University Review involves deepening our understanding of current SDG-related activities, as well as organizing events, presentations, and discussions of what SDG engagement can and should look like at Concordia,” says William Cheaib, chief of staff to the president and chair of the SDG steering committee.

“The process will allow us to learn about where we are, where we have to go, and how we’ll get there, in order to help us meet our SDG commitment.”

Future events include a 17 Rooms exercise, to be launched in January. The series of brainstorming sessions, which follow a model created by the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States, will provide members of the Concordia community an opportunity to engage with the SDGs and think together about how to deepen and amplify the impact of the university’s SDG efforts.

Cross-institutional engagement

“Concordia has signed on to the SDGs as a way to collectively respond to the immense challenges the world faces around climate change, inequality, resource depletion and public health,” says Anne Whitelaw, provost and vice-president, academic.

“The coordinated leadership of the Voluntary University Review shows our recognition that the SDGs require a full-university approach linking our activities around research, education, community engagement, innovation and operations.”

Paula Wood-Adams, interim vice-president of research and graduate studies, says, “Concordia’s engagement with the SDGs will help us advance our long-term vision as a next-generation university and encourage a joint effort across the institution. Our VUR will be key in helping us design the ways to best develop our contributions.

Michael Di Grappa, vice-president of services and sustainability, adds, “The SDGs challenge us to link environmental sustainability to other efforts across all disciplines at the university and in the community related to addressing inequality and economic opportunity. And they prompt us to recognize the importance of partnerships for making progress on the Global Goals.”

Register for
Concordia’s SDG launch event on November 29.

Visit Concordia’s Sustainability Development Goals website to learn more about the university’s ongoing SDG efforts and future events.



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