- UBC Insiders - http://ubcinsiders.ca -

Issue of the Day: Sustainability

Posted By Brendon Goodmurphy On January 23, 2008 @ 1:26 am In Features | Comments Disabled

I like to think of myself as an environmentalist, and its definitely how I got my start in student politics – co-chairing the Student Environment Centre for two years. Those two years were spent feeling frustrated and overwhelmed – partly because of the generally poor organizational structure of the SEC (and other Resource Groups), and partly because I was too idealistic and didn’t know a thing about campus politics, the AMS, coalition-building, strategic planning, and well, activism.

I still feel like I don’t really have a handle on environmental issues at UBC. So, what is it all about? Is it just PR or are we making a difference? Is UBC really leading the way in sustainability? And where does the AMS fit in all of this…

Some answers to these rhetorical questions… behind the jump…

A History of Sustainability:

In 1997, the University passed its Sustainability policy, committing to creating a Sustainability Office and creating a strategy that would guide its sustainability efforts. In 1997, this was huge, and still something to be proud of – a lot of very organized student groups across the country are still fighting with their University’s to develop a recycling program, let alone a sustainability office. Then Director of Sustainability Frida Pagani along with Geoff Atkins (AVP Land & Building Services) and I’m sure others convinced UBC that they could save millions of dollars in energy costs by retrofitting buildings (making buildings on campus more energy-efficient), which could fund the sustainability office’s operations. UBC agreed, and there you have the lasting marriage between UBC and Sustainability.
But that was really all the sustainability office had to offer save for a few educational and administrative programs which have mostly been, in my opinion, ineffective. UBC also likes taking a lot of credit for the U-Pass, and the associated increase in transit ridership – all too often forgetting the role that the AMS played in securing that program for students.

Recently, a new Director was appointed to the Sustainability Office, Charlene Easton. She comes from the corporate sustainability sector, and brings a very different flavor, but I think one that is setting the Sustainability office in much bolder new directions. We’ll have to wait and see, she’s only been in the position for less than a year. But, Charlene is very interested in building partnerships with students, particularly the AMS. Some of the new initiatives: creating something comparable to LEED standards for the market housing being built in U-Town; creating a coalition of student groups on campus called the Climate Action Partnership, coming together to create a framework that will get UBC to climate neutrality (also known as carbon neutrality).

What’s the problem?

Well, technically you could say there isn’t one. UBC has an incredible compost and recycling program, we boast the amazing educational and food security efforts of the UBC Farm (although it took a lot of lobbying to get UBC to recognize its value, which isn’t quite done), and we get a lot of international recognition for our efforts. The reality is, we could be doing a LOT better, and the push should be coming from students. The problem, in my opinion, is with us, the students.

We should be producing reports on various environmental issues, we should be writing letters, lobbying and building coalitions. We should be planting gardens in the middle of main mall. We should be demanding that no more trees are cut down for market housing, that more green space is preserved, and that all buildings are LEED platinum.

It takes all the energy we can muster to put on the Student Environment Centre conference – this year it was great too… but it didn’t create any larger dialogue about what the next big things that should be happening in campus sustainability. When I was co-chair, I was an idealist who didn’t know a thing about the science behind anything I was talking about, and I thought that “awareness campaigns” had meaning. We tried to hold stuff swap events that mostly just highlight the incredible amounts of junk that people collect over the years. I definitely wasn’t knocking on administrator’s doors. I definitely wasn’t mobilizing students to do demonstrations, and I wasn’t putting much effort into finding out what was really going on.

What should we do?

If student leaders want to be effective in making a difference in the environment, there are three things we need to do… 1) Get really informed – know everything that the Sustainability Office is working on, know all the new and innovative ideas that are being implemented around the world, etc. 2) Get more organized – let’s not be afraid to have structure if it makes us more effective, pay people for the work they do, have goals and plans, pick one issue and address it from every angle. We’re getting had because we, as environmentalists are too flakey. 3) Get political – lets stop wasting our time on frivolous events where we’re the only ones attending our own events, usually out of pity, and lets start changing the mind’s of the big-wigs at the top.

And a little plug for the AMS’ Sustainability Strategy:

Currently I’m working on developing a sustainability strategy for the AMS. I want it to be big. I want it to be bold. There are a lot of focus groups happening over the next two weeks, so make sure you come and participate and get your ideas to us – get more info on the AMS website.

Article printed from UBC Insiders: http://ubcinsiders.ca

URL to article: http://ubcinsiders.ca/2008/01/issue-of-the-day-sustainability-2/

Copyright © 2010 ubcinsiders.ca. Some rights reserved.