Sustainability Engagement in Post-Secondary Education

August 6th, 2019 12:44:00 PM

As engagement with sustainability programs among Canadian colleges and universities is on the rise, researchers are beginning to explore the factors that actively contribute to tangible progress. Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) conducted a study to explore whether provincial context or signing a sustainable declaration have an influence on genuine ongoing commitment to sustainability. Canadian post-secondary institutions are increasingly signing environmental or sustainability declarations (either national or international), undergoing sustainability assessments, and creating sustainability offices and policies. While signing a declaration may merely be a veneer to appear sustainable on the surface, the other two factors accelerate actual sustainability progress. In order to have an effective declaration, institutions need to establish “sustainability-specific” policies that include actionable routes the institution intends to pursue in the near future. Provincial sustainability guidelines and active student involvement are also factors that bolster effective sustainability programs. 

 

Where should post-secondary institutions begin? There are several organisations that specialize in this field of sustainability growth, and Tavares Group Consulting’s Staarsoft™ software can help your organisation choose the best features from several frameworks to create a pathway for sustainability success.

 

In May, 2018, the Canadian College & University Environment Network (CCUEN) in partnership with the Canadian Alliance of College & University Sustainability Professionals (CUSP) launched the first ever Sustainability in Higher Education Canada Conference. Held in Montreal, Québec, the conference featured keynote speakers and panellists from colleges and universities across the country, sharing professional insights into several themes relevant to post-secondary sustainability programs, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which also featured at the Fashion Takes Action (FTA) 2018 Conference in Toronto. A second higher education networking conference took place May 14-15, 2019 in Edmonton, Alberta. 

 

The overall mission of CCUEN and CUSP is to facilitate collaboration and information exchange about sustainability among post-secondary educators. CUSP is an affiliate member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Established in 2005, ASSHE is a leading organisation for the advancement of sustainability in post-secondary education. AASHE offers a membership program to schools, non-profits, and businesses that provides access to networking and recognition, research, professional development, and news and resources. As of 2018, there are over 900 members across the United States, Canada, and 35 other countries. AASHE’s mission is to “inspire and catalyse higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.” Their inclusive approach to sustainability includes human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better planet for future generations. The 2019 AASHE Conference & Expo in Washington, DC, is expected to attract 2,000 attendees who will exchange effective models, policies, and research to advance sustainability in post-secondary institutions and communities. 

 

In 2009, AASHE introduced the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS®)—a voluntary, self-reporting framework for post-secondary institutions to monitor their sustainability progress. The system incentivises institutions to take further action, and commends those that exhibit levels of high performance. To meet goals for transparency and collaboration, all reports can be found online at stars.aashe.org. STARS® is available to any college or university worldwide, regardless of AASHE membership. There is a free basic access option to track progress and share data as a STARS® Reporter. 

 

STARS® registered institutions have full access to the framework, can track their progress against other similar institutions, and may receive ratings from bronze to platinum based on credits in 17 sustainability impact areas identified by STARS®. Credits fall into five categories: academics (AC); engagement (EN); operations (OP); planning and administration (PA); and innovation and leadership (IP). Measureable areas of impact include curriculum, research campus and public engagement, buildings, energy, waste, air, water, diversity, affordability, and wellbeing. Staarsoft™ can assist to identify relevant sustainability indicators in the educational sector, and prioritize goals with an actionable sustainability plan. 

 

Western University is one of the 30 Canadian colleges and universities registered with STARS®. With a Gold rating for 2018, Western was acknowledged in the 2018 Sustainable Campus Index (SCI) which highlights top-performing schools each year for taking a proactive approach to mental illness issues on campus by hosting its first walk-in mental health clinic (STARS® wellbeing and work subcategory). 

 

There are many creative ways for post-secondary institutions to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Fanshawe College incorporates SDGs into their curriculum and research projects with community partners, and was awarded Silver for their 2014 STARS® submission. The department of Fashion Design plans to hold its first Unbound zero waste fashion event in April 2020. “Fanshawe faculty actively approach the curriculum delivery within the context of sustainable best practises,” says Fashion Design Professor and Unbound event coordinator, Professor Carriere. Full-time Fanshawe Fashion Design faculty, Loren Carriere and Meredith Jones, annually attend FTA events. 

 

George Brown College received a Silver STARS® rating in 2016, and was recognized as a top-performer in the 2016 SCI. George Brown’s Green Team studies the environmental impact of the buildings, facilities, and operations, and works to incorporate good environmental practices directly into the curriculum. The institute’s commitment to sustainability is also reflected in the School of Fashion. Marilyn McNeil-Morin, Director, Fashion Exchange, School of Fashion Studies, explains:

 

“In the School of Fashion and Fashion Exchange, the UN SDGs are taught in our Sustainable Fashion Production program and form the basis for the apparel industry response to sustainability in the CEO Agenda (Seven Sustainability Priorities for Fashion Industry Leaders) which is also part of the curriculum. 

 

George Brown School of Fashion pioneered the first post-secondary Graduate Certificate wholly devoted to managing sustainability for the apparel industry in the full time program Sustainable Fashion Production.  Sustainability is approached not just in theoretical terms, but how it can be incorporated throughout the full lifecycle of the supply chain and extended to the post-consumer life of a garment. 

 

In addition, Fashion Exchange research has a primary focus on textile recycling and the development of a circular economy. Fashion Exchange is establishing research projects with industry partners to upscale the separation of textile waste by fiber type, then to breakdown via mechanical or chemical means to develop methods to recycle fiber to new uses.”

 

The TGC Sustainability Toolkit approach and associated Staarsoft™ software address all areas of sustainability (environment, operating practices, product, services, and community), and can help to prioritise STARS® and SDGs, which are integrated into the software’s indicators for sustainability performance. The Toolkit applies practical guidance on how to implement and manage sustainability in any organisation. Included in the Toolkit’s guidance document are many sample indicators that are identified in STARS®. 

 

The Toolkit approach allows organisations to track required information for managing material metrics to better respond to the obligations of several sustainability frameworks in order to integrate them into their sustainability management plan (see diagram). 

We offer customizable and scalable solutions to assist organisations in their pursuit of corporate sustainability and sustainable development. Our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) services include gap analysis/benchmark assessments, sustainability action planning and implementation software, corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting, and assurance services. If you would like to receive more information on how we can help your organisation meet its CSR goals, and a free booklet about our unique approach, contact us!