Students promote sustainability

December 02, 2004, vol. 31, no. 7
By Diane Luckow

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If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em. It's an old saw, but communication undergrad Candace Bonfield and earth sciences graduate student Janice Brahney have discovered it works.

After a year or two of spinning their wheels in a campus environmental action group affiliated with the Simon Fraser public interest research group, they realized that their environmental activism wasn't going anywhere.

So together with biology undergrad Karl Hardin, they did an abrupt about-face, adopting a top-down, collaborative approach that involved them in meetings with the university's facilities management department, campus planning, student services and even professors in the field.

Their goal: to determine how an environmental group could improve sustainability on campus.

Their new approach is working. With their energy, enthusiasm and business-like attitude, they've established the student-led sustainable campus coalition (SCC) and managed to galvanize the entire university community in support of sustainability,

The SCC's aim is to promote dialogue and collaboration between university members, initiate and encourage research, and provide educational programs and resources. The goal is to ensure that SFU becomes a leader in sustainability.

While SFU has long been committed to green initiatives, including annual waste audits, an exemplary recycling program and extensive energy efficiency retrofits, there has never been a formal sustainability mandate.

Now, thanks to Bonfield, Brahney and the SCC, the university is establishing a new sustainability advisory committee chaired by Joe Weinberg, associate VP- financial planning.

“We'll be drawing up terms of reference to guide the committee's operations,” says Weinberg, who adds that the sustainability concept is endorsed by university President Michael Stevenson and the administration.

“We have a large number of environmental initiatives already,” he notes, “So let's do things in an integrated fashion, work with all interested parties and capitalize on their knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm.”

Weinberg expects there will be strong representation from the sustainable campus coalition on the advisory committee. “We'll work in partnership with the SCC,” he says.

“It will provide a better focus and a way to exchange ideas so that we can make steady progress in achieving sustainability goals.”

In the meantime, the SCC has already initiated four programs for which they hope to receive funding from the administration.

One is a campus sustainability assessment program where students would undertake lab reports and term papers assessing environmental indicators on campus and suggesting improvements; another is a website offering educational resources.

The third is a green offices booklet for faculty and staff and the fourth is a local environmental awareness program that will work with the biological and environmental sciences departments to create educational materials, such as posters, focused on Burnaby Mountain and its ecology.

“We wanted to be a catalyst for dialogue and action,” says Bonfield. “We wanted a rich movement so that things accomplished would be done in a positive manner and create pride in the university.”

Already, notes Brahney, faculty and staff have helped with advice and resources and some professors are already handing out campus sustainability assignments.

Even Parminder Parhar of Renaissance Coffee added his support by dispensing thousands of free mugs to students.

Bonfield is beaming. “Working within the system as opposed to against it is so much more effective,” she says. “Look what we've done already.”

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