Overview of Sustainability Office and Initiatives

Overview

The Sustainability Office works to advance SFU’s leadership position in sustainability by ensuring the implementation of SFU’s Sustainability Policy (GP38) and 20-Year Sustainability Vision and Goals through a coordinated and cohesive approach to institution-wide sustainability initiatives. The Office also facilitates the development and implementation of the University’s five-year Sustainability Strategic Plans and identifies opportunities to meet, exceed and lead on internal and external sustainability targets. This includes monitoring and reporting on the University’s progress against key performance metrics and global sustainability indicators. 

The Office works collaboratively with the VPs, and their teams, to develop, scale, and promote sustainability initiatives. It also takes the lead on specific projects which have the potential to put SFU in a leadership role in a specific subject area (e.g., Zero Waste Initiative, Climate Action and Resilience Project, and Living Lab). The Office reports administratively to the VP Finance and Administration and is more generally accountable to the President and Vice-Presidents. As such, the Office advises the President and Vice-Presidents on sustainability-related risks and opportunities as requested and deemed appropriate.

Mission/Mandate

In 2016, the President and Vice-President's approved an updated mandate for the Sustainability Office. 

The Sustainability Office works to create a culture of sustainability at SFU by instilling sustainability as a core value for the institution and aligning sustainability principles with University goals, objectives, and activities. Sustainability at SFU encompasses the intersection between the environment, society and economy as defined in SFU’s Sustainability Policy (GP38). Because sustainability is a systems approach to human and ecological issues, the Office works at a systems-level to advance SFU’s leadership in sustainability by:

  1. ensuring the implementation of SFU’s Sustainability Policy (GP38) and 20-Year Vision and Goals through a coordinated and cohesive approach to institution-wide sustainability initiatives. This includes evaluating, monitoring and reporting on the University’s progress against key performance metrics and sustainability indicators.
  2. facilitating and supporting the development of the University’s five-year Sustainability Strategic Plans as part of the University Planning Framework. This includes supporting the development and implementation of VP portfolio actions plans which roll up into the Sustainability Strategic Plan. The Office identifies opportunities to meet, exceed and lead on internal and external sustainability targets and works collaboratively with the VP portfolios to develop goals, targets, and strategies. The Office provides VP portfolios with services and tools to support the implementation of sustainability plans. Authority for approving, resourcing, and implementing sustainability plans is with the President and Vice-Presidents.
  3. taking the lead on specific projects, programs and signature initiatives (e.g., Zero Waste Initiative). This will occur with projects and programs that transcend portfolio mandates, or do not fit within the mandate of existing portfolios, with the approval of senior leadership. 

The Office reports administratively to the VP Finance and Administration and is more generally accountable to the President and Vice-Presidents. As such, the Office advises the President and Vice-Presidents on sustainability-related risks and opportunities as requested and deemed appropriate.

Our approach

The Sustainability Office’s approach to the University’s sustainability program is focused on these main guidelines below. They were developed as part of a strategic planning session in early 2020.

  • Applying a systems perspective to all planning, implementation, and measurement. At the core of the concept of sustainability is the concept of interconnection.   
  • Putting relationships and collaboration at the center of all our work. We strongly believe that the Sustainability Office does not own sustainability work at SFU and that the best sustainability program at SFU is one where everyone feels they can play a meaningful role in its success. 
  • Ensuring the process for getting to an outcome is given as much attention as the outcome itself. Frequently the process is the outcome, and even when it is not, all programs, projects, and deliverables are better designed through effectively designed processes. 
  • Focusing on accountability and transparency. This means that we try whenever possible to only commit to work we believe is possible to complete. We are careful to prioritize, project plan and manage, and ensure we don’t overcommit our time and resources. We are accountable to our colleagues, to the SFU community and global sustainability movement, and senior leadership by being radical in our transparency on achievements and where credit is due. Our work is grounded in best practices, data and evidence collection, evaluation, and consultation.
  • Centering justice, equity, and reconciliation. Projects, initiatives, and programs must address and embody decolonization and ensure that they are accessible for, and reciprocal to, Indigenous communities. It must also challenge systemic oppression and discrimination of all peoples and seek opportunities for justice in the design our both our processes and outcomes.  
  • Centering evidence and data based solutions design.
  • Applying a living learning process. Our work is constantly tested and will continue to evolve as the complex systems we operate in change. We aim to take smart, intentional risks to test our assumptions and learn from our failures. We seek feedback so that we can grow and share our learning with others, because this is how the system gets smarter. 
  • Utilizing storytelling to bring transformative solutions and community champions to life.

Sustainability, EDI, and Reconciliation/Decolonization

The sustainability movement has been right accused of being white and middle class focused with a colonial approach to solutions development. The Sustainability Office has therefore made a commitment to centering marginalized voices, perspectives, and solutions and embedding anti-oppression, anti-racism, and decolonizing training as a standard for all staff. The official statement on our website can be found here.

 

Active projects

SFU 2025 Sustainability Plan: 5-year University-wide plan addressing sustainability across operations, teaching, research, and community engagement. The current focus of Year 1 is to develop the Advisory Council which will govern the implementation of the Plan and ensure integration of EDI and Reconciliation principles, the confirmation or establishment of working committees to develop action plans for each target, and the completion of a GHG inventory. The SFU 2025 website can be found here.

Living Lab: Living Lab is an applied research program that facilitates sustainability-themed collaborations between staff, faculty and graduate students. Part of the SFU 2025 Plan as targets 8 and 9, the Living Lab is an institution-wide initiative in collaboration with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, SFU's Vice-President Research and International Office, SFU's Sustainability Office, and SFU’s Vice-President Finance and Administration. The Living Lab webpage can be found here

Climate Action Student Collaborative: Embark Sustainability and SFU’s Sustainability Office have launched a new co-run and co-designed sustainability leadership program for students. This new experiential and project-based co-curricular program will encourage and support undergraduate SFU students to step into roles as sustainability leaders while learning valuable sustainability career skills. Students will gain co-curricular credit for their participation in the program. Information on the Collaborative can be found here.

Sustainability Impact Measurement Initiative (SIMI): SIMI is focused on streamlining sustainability data collection, reporting and communications for SFU. The initiative was established as a partnership between the Sustainability Office, Research Intelligence Office, SFU International and Institutional Research and Planning. The objectives of the SIMI include developing a centralized database for the university and an online communications platform to share sustainability data and stories with the community. Within the overarching SIMI goal, the group also works on SFU’s submissions to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. The rankings benchmark institutions’ performance towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Climate Resilience Plan: The Sustainability Office is working with Laura Vajanto (Resilient SFU/SRS), Deborah Harford (Adaptation to Climate Change Team), Nastenka Calle (Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions), and Wendy Lee (Facilities Services) to develop a University-wide plan for how the institution can plan to be resilient in the face of unavoidable sustainability impacts such as increased heating events, air pollution due to forest fires, extreme weather events, and sea level rise (Vancouver). 

Food System and Security project: The Sustainability Office is working with Joanne Curry and members of the VP External Relations portfolio, Ancillary Services and Dining staff, Dr. Tammara Soma from the Food Systems Lab, Ali White from Embark Sustainability, and steering committee members from BCIT and UNBC on a BC Collaborative for Social Infrastructure project addressing food security, sustainability, and sovereignty with an Indigenous lens. 

Reuse for Good: Re-use for Good is an SFU Zero-Waste initiative to implement and promote reusable alternatives to single-use plastics and disposable products (SUPPs). In building infrastructure for reusable alternatives, Re-use for Good is reducing the quantity of SUPPs where possible across all dining locations. The project is a collaboration between the Sustainability Office and Ancillary Services with ongoing consultation with the Students with Disabilities and Neurodiversity Alliance (DNA). Information on the program can be found here.

Sustainable Spaces: Sustainable Spaces is a certification for offices, labs, events, and dining establishments. Certified spaces follow a standard yet flexible set of guidelines for improving their environmental and social impact in each area. Information on the program can be found here.

 

Ongoing activities

  • Work with student groups to help them achieve their individual, course, and student group goals
  • Liaise with the UN and other international organizations on global commitments, networks, and partnerships
  • Consult and advice on sustainability practices for external corporate and non-profit entities
  • Represent SFU at local and global committees, conferences, and sessions
  • Support faculty in the development or delivery of courses focused on or integrating sustainability principles and/or projects
  • Support researchers in developing, connecting, and communicating their research as requested

What comes after 2025

The future direction of the sustainability office and sustainability initiative at SFU should be developed through community consultation and co-design. It would diverge from our approach to develop this vision independently. However, until that process is launched the following serve as a list of conditions that could be present as part of that near term future:

  • Student integration in sustainability initiative design: A capstone course co-taught by faculty, staff, and senior students is paired with an integrated mentorship program that intentionally places students at the center of the design and operation of SFU’s sustainability initiative including ongoing programs/projects through paid and mentored positions both within the Office and across the institution. The Sustainability Office co-develops the course, pilots the paid mentorship program, and coordinates the future expansion to other areas.  

  • Living Lab expanded across institution: The Living Lab approach is thriving and informs all sustainability work at SFU ensuring decisions, program development, and operations are evidence based and offer ongoing research opportunities for graduate students. The Sustainability Office continues to coordinate the program in collaboration with VPRi and VPFA, and continues to build on and off campus partners 

  • Local leadership: Due to the success of SFU 2025 and the active projects and programs on the ground SFU has been asked to organize a collaborative of local municipalities, businesses, and other universities to scale SFU’s (and others) work and lead a research driven BC wide effort toward a just and regenerative negative carbon economy.  

  • Erasing the portfolio boundaries: Staff/faculty in all Vice-President portfolios actively work together across portfolios to generate innovative approaches to ecologically regenerative and just research, teaching, learning, and community engagement. The Sustainability Office helps create connections, supports relationship building, and co-develops processes for innovation generation.  

  • Intentional collaboration between EDI, Reconciliation, Student Experience, Community Experience, and Sustainability: Staff, faculty, students and external community members working in each of these areas meet regularly to make connections, develop solutions to system problems, reduce unnecessary overlaps, support each other and build community, and co-vision and co-develop so that each initiative is well versed in the others and lifts them up while still maintaining their own unique goals and outcomes. The Sustainability Office continues to integrate EDI, Reconciliation, Student Experience, and community into their program design and actively works to build relationships and partnerships with these groups.  

  • Global leadership: SFU is known for and plays an active role in select international networks such as the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN), Times Higher Education (THE), and the Association for Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) to collaborate locally, nationally, and globally with other institutions to scale successful programs and achieve economies of scale for change initiatives. Sustainability has become a strategic differentiator for SFU and drawn international attention for our unique and innovative approach. 
  • Sustainability as the default: Sustainability principles and practices are embedded into all decision-making criteria and the most ecosystem regenerative and socially just options are default considerations. The Sustainability Office has generated practical tools to do this well.