Sustainability Strategy seeks students’ input

The U of M followed universities across the country in adopting a sustainability policy on Jan. 25, setting out specific principles and processes to meet its goal “to become a leader in campus sustainability.”

Now that it has a policy, it needs a plan, which is where the Sustainability Strategy comes in. The university’s sustainability committee is gathering ideas and feedback from campus stakeholders — like students —  and turning them into concrete actions, with timelines, to make up the Sustainability Strategy.

“Where we’re going from here, we want the community to help us decide,” said chair of the U of M’s sustainability committee John Sinclair, a professor in the Natural Resources Institute.

The committee was assembled last spring, with four student representatives, four faculty reps and four administration reps.

“It’s already been hard at work writing the sustainability policy,” said Sinclair, who’s been involved in campus greening initiatives, supervising sustainability theses, participating in university sustainability committees, and working it into his teaching, since he came to the university.

“An undertaking like this at the U of M, the way we’re trying to do it, is a significant effort,” he said. They started by building a draft framework, he said, “because if you start with a blank sheet, it’s not going to be very helpful for getting people involved.”

Four working groups, with a total of 14 subsets, will boil down the recommendations, he said, and then the committee will attempt to implement them.

“It’s trying to institute a new way of thinking of how we operate as an institution, [ . . . ] making sustainability part of our collective thinking at the university,” Sinclair said. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

University sustainability coordinator Maire McDermott said the committee will submit a final strategy within a year — “ish,” she noted.

Their website has created a comment box to gather ideas; McDermott said she hopes students will begin using it right away to provide ideas and insight.

“Before, people would think [sustainability] was something I did. But everybody has to be involved in this,” said McDermott. “I want this to be what the campus wants, so I don’t want to lead them — so what I think was falling between the cracks was having a formal university commitment, done under one strategy and is the responsibility of everybody,” McDermott said.  

Anders Annell, the coordinator of the University of Manitoba Recycling and Environment Group (UMREG) and a member of the sustainability committee said that the formation of the committee was “a very good step,” and “necessary” for the university. He cautioned though, that for students, the progress might seem slow at times.

Michael Guberman, a staff member at UMREG, who spoke to the Manitoban as a student, said that the university is already doing many things right, such as recycling, requiring compostable containers and using reusable bags at the BookStore.

However he felt that better promotion was needed.

According to Guberman it’s about promoting it and doing it, and cutting through the university’s red tape.

University of Manitoba Students’ Union president Heather Laube agreed.
“The biggest challenge for the sustainability strategy is whether it gets followed up with action,” she said.

She said UMSU will be involved in the committee and many of its working groups, noting she’s seen a surge in student interest in UMSU’s environmental sustainability committee in recent years.

Laube said it’s unlikely the strategy will mean UMREG sorts less recycling, noting both the university and UMSU are committed to keeping those student jobs in place.

While Guberman said it remains to be seen whether UMREG’s role will change as a result of the new policy, he hopes that changes might mean the student group could focus less on sorting recyclables and more on promoting environmental awareness.  

Third-year environment student and UMREG staff member Michelle Bisonnette, also speaking to the Manitoban as a student, said the university is missing a big opportunity by not collecting composting. She noted there are a number of issues — including smell — but accepting compostables during only the lunch rush would mitigate that.

Bisonnette added that the U of W’s new food service model, which got rid of a large-scale provider and hired a chef who focuses on buying local food and preparing it in-house, is a very sustainable model.

“There’s a much stronger relationship with the food. I think that’s something that’s really missing here,” said Bisonnette.

She added that some campus restaurants, like Degrees and the Daily Bread Cafe, already have that focus, and it’d be challenging to do it on the huge scale of the U of M.

“I think there’s a lot of work that can be done around food,” she said.

Bisonnette also stressed educating students about what they can do, especially reducing waste.

“I think recycling and composting and all that is great, but if you look at the amount of recycling we get, we get a lot, and does all that stuff end up being reused? It’s hard to say because there isn’t necessarily a big market for it, so I think reducing is a lot more powerful,” she said, touting UMSU’s Free Store. The Waste Prevention Office also has a Re-Store.