6 12 2009

Millions of people study and work in universities around the world, and yet there seems to be disappointingly little done in respect of the practical implementation of sustainable principles into university life.  Universities play such an important role in society as they provide an opportunity for life-long learning, the sharing of ideas and innovative solutions, team work, research—the major foundation of society and growth.  Universities are often breeding grounds for liberal speech and activism.  Universities in Canada, such as Royal Roads University or the University of Victoria, encompass energy for change.  Thousands of individuals come together every day to enrich their education.  It should be the University’s rightful place in the forefront of innovation for sustainability, honoring both our generation’s needs and placing a commitment on the needs of future generations.

In a recent Sustainable Development class, two representatives from the university’s sustainable management presented to our class the Royal Roads University Sustainability Plan.  The plan, a 33 page document published less than a year ago, outlines the main goals and initiatives undertaken by the university.   Action plans and dates are also set for each initiative.  The goals outlined include:

  • Teaching sustainable leadership
  • Responsibility as environmental/social stewards
  • Eco-centric perspective and collaborative approach to sustainable solutions
  • Green Innovation: (linking education and research into practice and policy)
  • Carbon neutrality by 2010
  • Going “off-grid” by 2018

The key sustainability initiatives that match these goals are: GHG management, Going “Grid Positive”, Transportation Demand Management, Ecological-Sensitive Siting and Heritage Conservation, and University Stewardship.  Representatives from the Habitat café, and custodial management both illustrated their part in active stewardship on campus.  One of the largest challenges that Royal Roads faces is its constantly changing and fragmented student body.  Involvement in campus sustainability initiates are usually practiced and witnessed on the surface level: using the proper waste bins to separate compostable paper towel and food from paper, garbage and other recyclables; recognizing the importance of chemical free cleaning; riding a bike or carpooling to campus.  Royal Roads is taking the initiative to go off-Grid, and do their part to green their infrastructure and business practices.  They are harmonizing technology and expansion within the delicate ecology of the campus by incorporating a LEED platinum learning centre, and actively campaigning for the Robert Bateman Centre.  Solutions are being explored and debated, such as building a waste and energy resource centre.   The positive: there are affirmative results from current initiatives, such as diverting 10 tonnes of compostable paper towel from the landfill, discussions for ways to extend stewardship, and future goals that looks achievable; however, how can we as students, and the local community be better involved?

Students are gathering from around the world to RRU to enrich their education and achieve their goals.  I think that the major hole in the sustainability plan is an answer to how students can take a larger active role in university’s sustainability initiatives beyond the stewardship practices.  The biggest challenge: how can these roles fit the short life-span of a RRU student with a crammed schedule, and how can the University merry its initiatives with community involvement. 

“Against this backdrop, we believe that Royal roads University has a unique role to play based on its innovative history, unparalleled physical location, and strategic direction.  The university may be only one of many Canadian post-secondary institutions with programs and research focused on environmental science and stewardship, but a pledge to lead in sustainability is not a new path for RRU.  It is a re-awakening” (RRU Sustainability Plan)

  • As a student in the Bachelor of Environmental Science Program, I desire to have a greater involvement in the sustainability initiatives at RRU; however, I have struggled to find a tangible project or club I can be involved with.  I am interested in learning more about the Robert Bateman Centre, and the new (to be LEED certified)  L.I.C building.  I would like to see more publicized information outlining what defines a LEED certified building, so that myself and other students can see for themselves the importance of these features in a green building construction, design, and infrastructure.  We see the construction evolve everyday- but I feel disconnected from the initiative because I don’t have the tangible or visual information about what is going on (unless I am willing to spend the time researching it).  RRU may want to consider promoting a “Green Challenge” initiative.  Perhaps as a handbook (simple-to read, with lots of visuals, clear lists, creative format), or posters promoting tangible activities students can be involved in when they are on campus.  Maybe even categorize these activities according to time (a residency challenge, vs. a yearlong challenge), and also define these activities by the positive impact they can provide for the student, the school, the community and the environment.  Some ideas:
  • A native vegetation garden challenge, either at RRU’s garden plots, or people’s own personal gardens.  Encouragement to plant and care for a native plot and maybe have a year-end competition (pictures or visits) to determine who had the ‘greenest thumb’
  •  A carpool challenge for residences, faculty members, and year-long programs. 
  •  An elementary and secondary school educational program on the RRU grounds.  Taking school age children on walks through the wooded areas, lagoon, Colwood Creek watershed, restored fish ladders and wetland and explain the importance of the key aspects of these areas, in order to help children feel a greater connection to nature and understanding of why habitat protection is so important.
  •  A bring your own coffee mug challenge.  Perhaps a punch card can be negotiated: Every 20 cups saved from the garbage = 1 free coffee.


 Royal Roads University.  Sustainability Plan, 2008.  Retrieved from: http://www.royalroads.ca/NR/rdonlyres/E50DE048-206F-433A-AD1D-9EAEF6B4F4A7/0/SUSTAINABILITYPLAN4.pd

UBC’s green campus web site.  Initiatives are similar to Royal Roads University (waste reduction, ride-share, green buildings. . .) but as university capacity would dictate: much more developed than RRU.  Great comprehensive web site: http://www.sustain.ubc.ca/.  There appears to be more concrete projects and leadership roles that students can be involved in; however this can’t be directly related to RRU due to the nature of long tern student residence at UBC, whereas most students at RRU are in and out in less than a year.

Van Weenen, H.  Towards a vision of a sustainable university. (2000). Retrieved November 2009, from:  International Journal of Sustainability in Higher…, 2000http://studentenvoormorgen.nl/upload/git/Hans_Van_Weenen.PDF




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