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A call to leadership: Let’s rethink our cities to advance the fight on climate change

OPINION: Vice-president, Services and Sustainability, Michael Di Grappa calls on leaders to join Concordia on a path to decarbonization as outlined in our PLAN/NET ZERØ
April 20, 2024
A view of the Old Port of Montreal

With Earth Day approaching, we are called to reflect once again on the progress we’ve made in the face of climate change. We have certainly adopted many new daily practices over the last few decades. We try to “buy local” and eat less meat. We’ve made domestic recycling a reflex and banished plastic bags. 

But if we’re going to meet our goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, we’re going to have to make impactful changes outside the private realm of our homes. Those who manage businesses and institutions need to lead the way to greener living by making a commitment to widen individual action plans to enact collective changes in how we live and work.

I’m proud to say that Concordia University has launched an ambitious initiative to decarbonize its activities by 2040. We’re calling this comprehensive action PLAN/NET ZERØ. The number one activity creating greenhouse gas emissions remains heating and cooling our buildings. My office is located in a building that, like many of its downtown neighbours, is due for an upgrade. Concordia has committed to drawing on the expertise within the university realm and in industry to carry out a deep energy retrofit. This project will incorporate the latest innovations and cutting-edge practices and will become the first phase of our living laboratory on how to retrofit existing buildings to be carbon neutral. 

The blueprints we develop in overhauling this first building will serve in future years to tackle the 80 buildings on our two campuses. We will also develop collaborations to take these novel construction practices off campus and into the wider community. Within our Next-Generation Cities Institute are some 200 researchers and students collaborating across the fields of urban planning, engineering, design, and transportation, all eager to see their findings incorporated into the vision of leaders committed to Net-Zero futures for their enterprises and neighbourhoods.

Developing partnerships is central to the mission of a large-scale Concordia-based project called Volt-Age, Canada’s leading electrification research program. Supported by a 123 million-dollar Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Volt-Age was based on the research expertise within the university. In its first year of activity, it has distributed seed financing to 36 research initiatives all with the goal of redefining electrification, smart buildings, and net-zero communities. Teams of researchers from universities across Canada are collaborating with more than 60 partners from industry and government, but also within Indigenous communities aiming to revolutionize existing approaches to clean energy development.  

Financing is a consideration for any organization determined to embark on the kind of ambitious long-term projects needed to succeed at decarbonization. Again, our experts within the John Molson School of Business and the District 3 incubator can help guide enterprises on how to get collaboration from financial institutions, seed startups in the green-tech sector and successfully plan, launch and evaluate the results of the major green-energy projects our future demands. Principles of sustainability are built into the curriculum of our business school and woven through courses in our faculties of engineering, fine arts and arts and science.  

Concordia’s solid commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and its broadly integrated approach to change through initiatives such as PLAN/NET-ZÉRØ has led to the institution being recently named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers by the organizer of Canada’s Top 100 Employers.   

The innovations underway at Concordia lead us to believe similar transformations can be made on a wider scale. Montreal is a leading university hub in North America with a rich tradition of entrepreneurship—two key elements necessary to collectively lighten our carbon footprint and transform our communities over the next decades.  

Will you join us?  

As Concordia has taken action, we’ve welcomed a growing number of community members eager to join as contributors and participants, lending their voices, their enthusiasm and their expertise. This type of positive momentum is exactly what will allow all of us to mobilize and tackle the planet’s greatest challenge to date.

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