People of SFU: Meet Rita Steele, Manager of Campus Sustainability

May 28, 2021
Rita Steele, SFU's manager of campus sustainability, joined SFU in October. She works with faculty, staff and students across campuses, to implement university-wide initiatives in support of SFU’s five-year sustainability plan.

To forward sustainability and climate action across SFU’s three campuses, collaboration is key.

As our climate continues to change, it’s so important for sustainability work to be pursued by every department and community member at SFU.

Rita Steele, SFU’s new manager of campus sustainability, who joined SFU last October, collaborates with faculty, staff and students across campuses, to implement university-wide initiatives in support of SFU’s five-year sustainability plan (2025 Plan) and strategic sustainability objectives.  

Meet Rita Steele

As the manager of campus sustainability, I work largely on SFU’s climate mitigation and adaptation plans while juggling many interdepartmental projects across the Vice-President, Finance and Administration. Climate and sustainability actions on SFU’s campuses are diverse and there is a lot happening!

I usually start my day by cooking a hearty breakfast – on days I wake up extra early, I love to get creative and experiment with more grandiose breakfasts such as eggs benedict or breakfast risotto. I’m not a coffee drinker and have never had a cup of coffee, sometimes I’ll also take a walk around the block to get some fresh air before my day starts.

Sustainability at SFU

The first thing I do every morning is prioritize my tasks for the day. This morning, I’m working on a strategic plan to support staff engagement in SFU’s Living Lab program.  Then, I spend some time expanding our community connections and identify key community members who will have critical insights on the development of new SFU climate adaptation targets. Before lunch, I’ll squeeze in some research time for a couple of new projects that are launching this month.

Afternoons are when I tend to book in a lot of my meetings. Today, I have a lunchtime planning meeting with student groups and partner organizations co-designing an upcoming event for a new university-wide Climate Resilience Plan. Then, I get ready to chair a committee meeting with our Circular Economy Working Group, who are currently working on creative ways to help SFU meet Target 4 in our 2025 Strategic Sustainability Plan. On other days, I’ll check in with the Sustainable Transportation and Energy committees working on similar solutions in their target areas.

Near the end of my day, I’ll typically go through my emails or set up project collaboration meetings with colleagues. With so many projects going on in our office, we check in and support each other a lot. During our team meetings, we even dedicate an hour specifically to project collaboration time.

Wellness at work

Health, wellness, and a work life balance are really important to our team. Especially during the pandemic, we consider movement breaks and personal resilience practices to be critical to doing our work well.

During most of my lunchbreaks, I like to dedicate some time to a meditation practice. I find it really grounds me, helps reduce the stress of a busy schedule and acts as a mental reset button halfway through the day. I return to the afternoon feeling refreshed and energized.

The sustainability office is a very tight knit team, but we are also completely remote at the moment, so we try to find creative ways to connect with each other. Lately, our team started hosting lunchtime workouts over zoom. The workouts we challenge each other with are not easy!

Moving the dial

Every day in the sustainability office is unique. Some days I have my head down working on engagement strategies, sustainability plans, projects and programs. Other days I’m in full collaboration mode on zoom, working with multiple staff departments, faculty, and student groups on ways to forward our climate work and sustainability leadership at the university.

One thing that keeps me hopeful at the end of the day, is knowing how many people at SFU are dedicated to this work and moving the dial. The only way forward is together.

This is a story in our People of SFU series, where we’re celebrating SFU’s unsung heroes—those who go above and beyond the call of duty to create community, advance SFU’s mission and make the university a great place to work and learn. You can read more stories here.