SFU students wasted no time in building their vision of a sustainable university at Embark’s Student Sustainability Summit, an SFU2021 partner event.
The event brought together 45 students from a wide array of disciplines, taking part in ranging discussions about different facets of sustainability. Their ideas and conversations will be used to build a Student Sustainability Vision which will help shape the university’s new sustainability strategic plan that will carry on until 2021.
“We got an overwhelming response,” Embark’s Executive Director Josh Cairns said, speaking to the enthusiasm of the participants. This summit was a continuation of the discussion that Embark started in November of last year. They surveyed over 400 students in the hallways of all three campuses, asking, “What does a sustainable SFU look like?”
One of the challenges of the event was addressing a topic as complex as sustainability. Cairns explained that “everyone defaults to the idea that sustainability is turning the lights off when you leave the room,” but the topic is far more multifaceted. SFU’s Sustainability Strategic Plan has six facets: energy and emissions, consumption and waste, mobility and travel, learning and discovery, society and equity, as well as risk and resilience.
Embark, formerly Sustainable SFU, has been promoting sustainability since 2003. The organization offers programs and events all year long. Students with their own project in mind can apply to use one of the $12,500 worth of grants Embark offers every year. Some of the projects include aerial imaging of agricultural land, and funding a competition for sustainable business practices.
One of Embark’s recent initiatives was a petition to encourage SFU vendors to switch from styrofoam to more sustainable materials. As of April 19, 2015, any SFU vendor renewing their lease will have a new set of food packaging guidelines, instructing them to use recyclable or compostable packaging only.
This kind of pressure on businesses to reduce their waste production is catching on in Vancouver as well. The city is currently considering a ban on single use coffee cups and plastic bags to reduce garbage.
For those skeptical that SFU students have any say in university policy, Cairns said, “if you give students the opportunity to be involved [. . .] you’d be surprised how much input they have.” He also added that because SFU was readily approaching Embark for student involvement, he is “confident that the ideas students brought forwards [will be seriously considered by the] university.” Embark is planning on submitting their vision statement to the senior sustainability council at the end of March.
Although the Summit is over, there are still ways for students to get involved with SFU2021. “One way is to convene a community conversation with friends and submit your thoughts and ideas as a group,” Cairns said, explaining that the SFU website has a guidebook titled SFU 2021 to help organize this kind of event.