When experts gather in Montreal for the United Nations COP15 Conference on Biodiversity from December 7 to 19, attention will range from global impact to local action. That may inspire Concordians to wonder about progress on campus.
The completion of year two of the Sustainability Action Plan means answers are available across its five streams. The publication of a new web dashboard provides simplified access for those wanting to stay up to date.
“The dashboard shows the progress made in the 2021-22 year in all five streams of the Sustainability Action Plan,” says Cassandra Lamontagne, manager of the Office of Sustainability.
“Collecting the data can be somewhat complex, and there are still improvements to be made. But we want the information to be available to the community in a straightforward way because transparency is an essential part of the process.”
Research and curriculum
In the research stream, progress includes the launch of a $100,000 Sustainable Transitions Team Research Initiative.
The university also invested considerable effort in the visibility of Concordia’s sustainability research. This included additional funding for researchers to showcase their work in conferences and other events.
Included in the curriculum stream was the hiring of a new sustainability programs curriculum developer.
“Having a dedicated resource means instructors can get expert guidance on how to adapt course content to better educate students about sustainability issues across disciplines,” says Anne Whitelaw, provost and vice-president, academic.
“We’re also looking forward to the results of the Sustainability Co-Design Project that we launched this spring. By supporting teams of instructors and students to identify relevant sustainability material for existing courses, we think we’ll arrive at some very tangible ways of increasing sustainability learning outcomes for students.”
Food and waste
“In the area of food systems, we saw great collaboration between students, Food Services and third-party caterers and vendors,” says Michael Di Grappa, vice-president of services and sustainability.
“We keep increasing the availability of plant-based foods and prioritizing local, fair trade and sustainable foods. We increased the stringency of our sustainability requirements for both our new catering and Food Services contracts. Plus, we are supporting student groups to develop alternatives on campus.”
More support will also be available for community-led food gardens and consideration of green spaces on campus, thanks to the hiring of a new urban agriculture and biodiversity coordinator.
Some of the current waste-reduction initiatives also relate to food and beverage consumption on campus, including a new partnership with CANO, a Montreal-based reusable mug program. By providing a sustainable alternative to bringing one’s own reusable mug — which isn’t always a viable option — fewer disposable cups and lids end up in waste bins.
Though the return to in-person activities did mean more overall waste production on campus, the percentage diverted from landfill went up — an important measure of change. In year one of the plan, 34 per cent of waste was diverted from landfill. In year two, the percentage improved to 40 per cent thanks to composting, recycling and reuse programs.
“We also improved our capacity to manage and reuse big items like furniture through a new equipment and furniture reuse program,” says Faisal Shennib, environmental specialist with Facilities Management.
“What’s more, we unloaded nearly 4,000 kilograms of goods and raised $2,300 for student projects through our first-ever garage sale, organized in June with the Centre for Creative Reuse.”
The university’s action on climate change is targeting its two dominant sources of greenhouse gas emissions: commuting and natural gas heating systems.
The regular commuter habits survey indicated progress on the use of active and public transit. Concordia encouraged these actions through challenges, prizes, workshops and other sustainability events.
For those who need to drive to campus, the university installed five new charging stations for electric cars in the Faubourg Building (FB) parking garage. It also continues to promote carpooling through parking discounts.
“For certain buildings that we can’t yet convert to electric heating, we’re experimenting with renewable natural gas,” notes Pietro Gasparrini, director of Environmental Health and Safety, responsible for overseeing the Office of Sustainability.
“It involves biogas that’s produced naturally when organic matter is broken down and is then redirected for use in our heating systems. It is considered a carbon-neutral source of energy. Still, it’s a temporary course of action to reduce our emissions while we develop other measures.”
Investing and the future
Also of note is the Concordia University Foundation (CUF) commitment to sustainable investments by 2025. It achieved an overall rating of A in 2020 for its United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and is now recognized as a leader in impact investments among North American universities.
Fossil fuel investments have also been reduced from 5.4 per cent of the endowment fund in 2019 to 1.2 per cent in 2022, as indicated in the upcoming 2021-22 CUF Annual Report.
As the plan nears its half-way mark, longer-term projects are in position to ramp up. In addition to new hires for curriculum and greenspace projects, added research talent will help advance several initiatives, notably a food security project. Student interns are also playing an active role, taking part in zero-waste education, waste sorting and surplus food recuperation.
There is also considerable work underway on the governance of sustainability initiatives.
“As the action plan matures, we need to validate the way we prioritize, fund and collaborate on initiatives. That’s a project that doesn’t show up in the new dashboard but is key to us doing things properly,” says Di Grappa.
In the meantime, each Sustainability Action Plan anniversary provides an opportunity for the university community to reflect on the university’s progress.
“The plan comes from and exists through our community members. Since we all have a role to play, we can be inspired by the recent accomplishments of our sustainability champions who continue to move our institution forward.”
To help advance the goals of Concordia’s Sustainability Action Plan, learn about the Sustainability Living Lab Program, become a student or employee sustainability ambassador or sign up for the new volunteer program.