KPU’s Environmental Sustainability Report is in Dire Need of an Upgrade

While the university continues to support green initiatives, there’s currently no good way to track and measure its various sustainability-related efforts

(@RESLUS)

As with most other universities, Kwantlen Polytechnic University has increasingly invested in sustainability-related initiatives over the past decade.

In addition to the construction of five LEED-certified buildings, the development of sustainability-centred programs, and an increase in energy efficiency, KPU has also signed the Talloires Declaration, a “10-point action plan for incorporating sustainability into teaching, research, operations, outreach and service activities,” and still is able to provide support for two sustainability research institutes.

While these efforts are certainly laudable, their visible effects in making KPU as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible are at times hard to identify.

In 2013, Karen Hurt, the former executive director of facilities at KPU, tasked a co-op student with creating an environmental sustainability report for the university. The report documents and summarizes the development and transparency of sustainability-related initiatives at KPU. It also identifies gaps in its efforts to be sustainable and provides recommendations on initiatives that can still be improved.

According to the report itself, it was created with the intention “to serve as a living document that will be periodically updated to display KPU’s current and planned sustainable practices.” Since January 2014, however, it has not been updated or replaced with a similar report.

Dr. Betty Worobec, KPU’s Dean of the Faculty of Science and Horticulture, is currently co-chair of the Environmental Sustainability Committee (ESC). As identified on its web page, the ESC was created “to facilitate, advise, advocate, and enable the implementation of integrated environmental sustainability activities at KPU.”

According to Worobec, the primary aim of the environmental sustainability report was to coordinate within the university and raise awareness.

“One of the issues we’ve been having all along with a university-wide sustainability effort is that we don’t have a coordinator or a manager or a director. It’s just people from different units on campus coming together and brainstorming, but we can’t do anything because we don’t have a budget,” she says. “We do what we can, but pretty much leave it up to the individual units to forge on ahead with programming or different types of initiatives.”

Although it’s possible to hire another student to review or replace the environmental sustainability report, Dr. Worobec says that the university would be reluctant to do so unless the individual being hired was guaranteed to stay for longer than a year.

“The position we’d love to have would have to be ongoing and not a yearly contract because you want to hire someone who’s right for the job and will stay,” she explains. “You don’t want to be hiring new people every year because you lose that continuity.”

Due to its lack of a continuous director, the impact of KPU’s sustainability efforts is minimal compared to those of other universities in the province. Matthew Greeno, a sustainability coordinator for the University of Victoria’s Campus Planning and Sustainability Office, says that he and his colleagues are responsible for developing and implementing a sustainability-based action plan for the university.

“We talk a lot about waste reduction, energy use … as well as transportation as a way of trying to engage staff, students, and faculty,” says Greeno. “One of the main student programs we have is the engagement of resident students to try and buttress up the sustainability aspects of what we have in our residence life programming.”

One example of that effort is a campaign called Love a Mug, which encourages students to avoid using paper cups. As part of the campaign, a staff member dresses in a coffee cup mascot outfit and hands out free coffee coupons while singing the praises of drinking from reusable cups. According to Greeno, the campaign has led to a total increase of reusable cup usage from 15-20 per cent to 30-50 per cent.

Other initiatives from the UVic Campus Planning and Sustainability team include coordinating with facilities to install a new stormwater system, creating a bike plan, and supporting independent, environmentally-friendly initiatives run by students.

Their team is small but effective, composed of three full-time staff members—a director and two coordinators—as well as three student members. This is comparable to teams at other universities like Capilano and the University of Northern British Columbia.

Mara Mennicken, a student originally from Germany, is completing the Community Leadership and Social Change Diploma at Capilano University. She spent a year working as an event coordinator at CapU Works, Capilano’s version of a green team, and says that it was “definitely a good experience.”

“I learned so much. I was never so free in my decision-making and had so much support,” says Mennicken, about her experience with CapU Works. “When you continue into the next semester, it’s like, ‘All right, now I know how to put on a farmers market.’”

Other sustainability initiatives that Capilano is involved with include energy conservation projects, community gardens, awareness-raising campaigns, and more.

All of these universities have reports which provide feedback and an overview of the progress made by the university on sustainable initiatives over the past year. A common feature highlighted in these reports is the reduction in energy usage by 33 percent from 2006 to 2015, which was mandated by the province and which KPU also achieved. All of the reports are available online and provide easy access to the various universities’ sustainability projects, as well as information about the tasks those institutions are undertaking to improve upon their sustainability.

KPU’s sustainability initiatives are also found on its facilities webpage. This includes minutes and reports from the Environmental Sustainability Committee, data from facilities, and a link to the 2013 Environmental Sustainability Report. In addition, although there is no currently active document which consolidates sustainability developments at KPU, there are a number of reports which track individual achievements in areas such as waste, carbon, and energy use.

“Where I believe KPU is making the most strides with regards to sustainability is through facilities,” says Worobec. “Ian Hunter, the facilities manager, almost always has something good to say.”

Projects such as the waste audit that was created and completed by students in ENVI 2310 “almost always go to facilities,” which uses the information to develop new initiative ideas, according to Worobec. KPU also hosts sustainability-related programs such as the Institute for Sustainable Food System and the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture, as well as the Tsawwassen Farm School.

“In the past four or five years, everything in [the environmental sustainability report] is still on, but so much more has happened,” says Worobec. “That was sort of the reason behind it. [There were] a lot of people doing things but nothing had been captured in one spot.”

The Kwantlen Student Association, for its part, has been very active on the sustainability front, running and implementing initiatives such as ecoDAYS and the Kwantlen Farmers market, as well as offering healthier and more sustainable food items—such as free trade coffee and vegan—at the Grassroots Cafe.

Worobec is grateful for all the work Mairi Lester, the sustainability coordinator at the KSA, has done. One of her most recent initiatives was sending a student from the sustainable agriculture program to Texas for a conference hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. On his return, the student, Will Bailey-Elkin, presented recommendations to both the KSA and the ESC on how to use KPU’s farm produce in the Richmond campus cafeteria.

Despite the efforts of various individuals and groups in the KPU community, the absence of a report or dedicated website tracking and consolidating all of the sustainability initiatives in one place makes it hard to understand and appreciate the university’s success in remaining environmentally conscious.

“Everyone knows it has to be done, but when money is short, rightfully so, money should be going towards making sure that programs are delivered,” says Worobec.

She explains that, at KPU, the primary focus is on the “student experience, that we have all the resources for you students to be able to get your credential in a timely manner and with a high quality of instruction.”

“I would hope for the new Vision 2023 that sustainability will be a main focus, and perhaps some funds will eventually be funnelled in that direction.”

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