Written by: Winona Young
SFU was ranked first in the world by the Times Higher Education’s (THE) 2020 University Impact Rankings for its contribution to sustainable cities and communities.
Times Higher Education is an independent data-providing organization that ranks universities globally. THE’s University Impact Rankings specifically assess universities’ efforts in maintaining the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all of which are found on their website.
President Andrew Petter explained in a phone interview with The Peak that this ranking is a result of both SFU’s internal sustainability initiatives as well as a number of community engagement projects.
“This ranking is really reflective of not individual effort, but of collective effort. A lot of the research we’ve done on sustainability has been done by faculty members; a lot of the advocacy on sustainability around our investment strategy, for example, has come out of student groups like SFU 350.”
The Director of SFU’s Sustainability Office Candace Le Roy highlighted a few of SFU’s sustainability initiatives in a phone interview with The Peak.
Amongst them was the Sustainability Mobility Advisory Committee (SMAC), a committee made up of faculty, staff, and students who collaborate on implementing environmentally sustainable practices in the university. She also highlighted the art and heritage work SFU has done, including work done by the SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples and both SFU Woodward’s Cultural and Community Programs. Le Roy explained that such initiatives aim to focus not only on the environment as a form of sustainability, but also the focus on the social and cultural life of communities served by SFU.
“Our work on sustainability at SFU is a University-wide initiative [ . . . ] that’s what makes our work on sustainability so effective,” Le Roy stated to The Peak.
Le Roy also emphasized SFU’s research in sustainability. Along with receiving a gold rating for its sustainability research in 2018, SFU has recently opened a school of Sustainability Energy Engineering (SEE), which welcomed its first cohort in Fall 2019. The SEE program is housed in SFU Surrey’s new sustainable building.
Even SFU’s choice of incorporating a multi-campus system contributes to sustainability, explained Le Roy, as the lack of commuters reduces transportation emissions and lowers the school’s carbon footprint.
Le Roy also noted that thanks to the SFU’s energy management team, the school has been able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to surpass the provincial target. “It’s not sexy work,” Le Roy said. “It’s flogging away and trying to find things like, how do we change a doorway in a building so that we can shave off a little bit more GHG.”
SFU was also ranked ninth in the world for its contribution to climate action. Recently, SFU committed to a five-year strategic Sustainability Plan which focuses on combating climate change, and consists of 16 sustainability targets. Before COVID-19, the Sustainability Office held community dialogue sessions with students and faculty about whether or not SFU should declare a climate emergency.
“It’s really hard to introduce an emergency declaration in the middle of another emergency,” Le Roy said. “So what we’re working on now until this settles down is to develop some climate action principles for the institution for our recovery plan.”
“Climate change is an existential threat to society and to the world,” said Petter. “The fact that we’re in the top 10 in the world in leading university responses to climate change is really encouraging but it’s no reason to rest on our laurels.”
As for the future of SFU’s Sustainability Office, Le Roy reported an oncoming collaboration with SFU Embark. Le Roy hopes to integrate students into SFU’s climate action and sustainability initiatives through consultation.
SFU also ranked highly in the Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions goal (fourth). Petter noted that programs like SFU Public Square and the Centre for Dialogue were major contributors to this goal, particularly with regard to raising public awareness on justice issues and public policy.
Petter concluded his interview by expressing his appreciation for faculty, staff, and students for the sustainable cities and communities goal amidst the pandemic.
“As much as COVID-19 is a dominant issue right now, there are other issues that we are contributing to that are also important and that we’re very much a leader,” he said.
“I’m confident SFU will continue to lead in the future.”