Sustainability at Western in provincial spotlight

A new report, issued by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) last month, shines a spotlight on recent sustainability efforts at Western and the university’s commitment to battling climate change.

Going Greener 2017: The Road to Low-Carbon University Campuses demonstrates Ontario universities’ commitment to environmental sustainability and highlights the growing number of courses and programs that aim to educate students with the skills they need in the green economy. The report also homes in on case studies that demonstrate partnerships among municipalities, businesses, industry and post-secondary institutions that are essential to taking a holistic community approach to environmental issues.

“Ontario’s universities are working in partnership with students, their communities and businesses − and taking the lead on their own campuses − to meet environmental challenges and help build a cleaner future,” said David Lindsay, COU President and CEO.

The report highlights two new Western courses:

  • Indigenous Peoples, Globalization and the Environment, which examines natural resource development and emphasizes the interplay among Indigenous peoples, the state and international developers; and
  • Environmental Science and Sustainability, an overview course on the science underlying climate change, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem function, resource use and air and water pollution.

But these two courses are only the most recent additions to the offerings at Western, said Beverley Ayeni, Western’s Sustainability Manager. In total, Western offers more than 600 sustainability-related courses, she said. In preparing its report, COU asked universities to provide a list only of new courses offered during the past year.

“This report highlights what universities are doing to reduce greenhouse gases and it shows a healthy sprinkling of each university and what they are doing. We are doing lots of great things on campus,” Ayeni said.

The report includes mention of sustainable research initiatives at Western, including Engineering professor Andy Sun’s partnership with a Beijing battery research company. Sun, a Canada Research Chair in Nanomaterials for Energy Conversion and Storage, is partnering with the China Automotive Battery Research Institute Co. Ltd. in hopes of solving critical and longstanding problems with battery life and safety by working towards solid-state batteries – all in an effort to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are doing quite a bit in terms of research,” Ayeni added.

The report this year focused on low carbon initiatives and greenhouse gas emissions, in line with the provincial Climate Change Action Plan, but Western’s sustainability research efforts extend beyond this area.

Researchers at Western are also examining causes of natural disasters and storms — and mitigating their damage from those events. Students present projects that deal with food security, food-sharing initiatives and reducing meat and dairy consumption, to name just a few efforts.

“We are re-thinking campus operations to make sure we are innovative; we are doing a lot of leading research on clean technologies and trying to position the university and Ontario as a global leader. We are always looking for innovative ways to conserve energy in our buildings through renovating and retrofitting old buildings (and) building new ones to LEED standards,” she continued.

“We are making sure we are in line with Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gases to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. We signed the Paris Pledge in early 2016 and all of the activity on campus to reduce greenhouse gases will help with this pledge. These are big goals we need to be cognizant of.”