Sustainability Governance Framework
The Sustainability Governance Framework is a network of stakeholders who have formed committees within Concordia’s official hierarchy through which sustainability is discussed, planned, and actioned. With three sub-committees – Operations and Environment; Teaching, Learning, and Research; and Campus Community Engagement – this network is able to touch on many of the different aspects that are essential to implementing sustainability campus-wide.
The Governance Framework is an initiative sparked by the Concordia Campus Sustainability Audits (CCSA) and championed by past Sustainability Coordinators, Jenn Davis and Mariam Masud, and Sustainable Concordia. This type of governance structure is standard when considering sustainability in institutions of higher education and Concordia’s Framework was implemented in 2013 by the President’s Executive Group after an inspired workshop with renowned leader in sustainability in higher education Leith Sharpe.
As a key stakeholder in sustainability on campus, Sustainable Concordia (alongside the Sustainability Action Fund, the Concordia Student Union, and the Graduate Student Association) have had seats on these different sub-committees since the beginning. Through the Framework we have been able to advocate for the creation of the Sustainability Policy and ensure it was implemented through a community consultation process (the first time a policy has followed this process at Concordia). In addition, we have been able to support student-led projects such as a Green Revolving Fund, the Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR) and the Waste Not Want Not compost campaign.
We strongly believe that, in order to meaningfully change our campus into one that is more sustainable, we must have action at the grassroots level as well as through these types of institutional mechanisms. Our role on the Sustainability Governance Framework sub-committees allows us to represent students and propose cutting-edge innovation which allows everyone on campus to play an active role in sustainability.
How to get involved: Do you have an idea or project you think should be implemented into the university’s operations? Let us know!
A sustainability policy for Concordia is something that has been on the “to-do” list of the sustainability community for a number of years. Similar to the Governance Framework, a policy on sustainability at Concordia offers a foundation for the implementation of sustainability throughout all aspects of university life. It has always been something called for in CCSA results and something Sustainable Concordia and each Sustainability Coordinator has advocated for. In fact, before her departure from the community, Jenn Davis wrote an extensive analysis of the state of sustainability on campus and encouraged the student community to continue to pressure the administration for the creation of concrete policies and procedures for promoting sustainability.
In 2013, after a few years of inactivity, members of Sustainable Concordia presented Concordia President Alan Shepard with a large banner with signatures from many stakeholders expressing the demand for a Sustainability Policy. Shortly after this the Sustainability Governance Framework was created and energies were focused on its execution.
The committees took initial steps to develop a definition of sustainability for the university – this was an important first step in creating context and understanding. After this, discussions about the policy disappeared from the Governance Framework in the face of unset priorities and turnover in key administrative positions. In the Fall of 2014 Sustainable Concordia put the policy back on the table. As a main priority of the organization, we wanted to see a policy developed through consultations with community stakeholders and included a call to action; something to hold the university accountable to continuous sustainability development. The Public Consultation Coordinator at the time developed a rationale and plan for a hypothetical consultation and met with key decision-makers but, ultimately, a lot of work needed to be done before a consultation process so that work was put on hold.
Through 2014 -2015 much work was done to develop the policy including finally consulting with the community, researching similar plans of other universities, consulting with municipal and provincial legislation for alignment, and executing public consultations. Finally, in December 2016, the Sustainability Policy (BD-7) was officially approved by the Board of Governors.
Sustainability Action Plans
Arguably, the most important piece of the Sustainability Policy is the section which mandates the university to “develop long-term sustainability plans with sustainability goals and measurable indicators as part of its organizational planning.” As this was a main demand Sustainable Concordia had in the creation of the Sustainability Policy, we are now working alongside the Sustainability Coordinator and other staff within the office of Environmental Health and Safety to implement the plans drafted over the past few years. We are also active in the Sustainability Hub, a collective of groups and individuals from different levels of the university and community.
So far we have participated in individual stakeholder consultations, broad community brainstorming, and another workshop with Leith Sharpe on integrating sustainability in institutions of higher education. Through these experiences, we gained a better idea of community expectations and a rough framework for implementation. Sustainable Concordia coordinators also sit on each of the stream committees (Food, Waste, Research and Curriculum, and Climate Change), and advocate for student and community voices in those conversations. As in many cases, the social and economic aspects of sustainability are often overlooked in favour of the environmental targets, where decisions are less controversial and targets are more clearly identified and achieved. We are continuing to push the sustainability action plans towards an intersectional framework, and advocate for an anti-oppressive culture of sustainability at Concordia.
In 2019-2020 the plans drafted by each stream committee went through rigorous discussion with stakeholders in all levels of the university community, and were ultimately approved. You can read more about the plans in detail here.
In 2019 Concordia also committed to divesting from the oil and gas industry by 2025, something that SC pushed for on the Climate Change Action Plan committee. We have, yet again, come up against the limited resources Concordia has dedicated to the development of sustainability into the operations of the institution. Unsure how to implement action plans with such a broad scope and without an office or department solely dedicated to sustainability, administrators are currently in somewhat uncharted waters. Through our role, we encourage administrators to dedicate more resources to the Sustainability Action Plans, including the development of an Office of Sustainability and implementing a Living Laboratory methodology. The pandemic and subsequent online migration of the university has also complicated the implementation of the plans, but if anything, this should be a wake-up call to the fact that we will face ongoing and increasing global crises from climate change if we don’t make drastic changes.
This has been a long process but things are looking promising, and Sustainable Concordia is looking forward to helping the plans stay on track, ambitious, transparent, and student-led.