President renews sustainability committee for greener campus

Steve Anderson / Western Communications

The Amit Chakma Engineering Building is LEED-certified platinum, built to high environmental standards that include solar arrays on its roof.

Western is accelerating its sustainability efforts with a renewed advisory committee that will guide the university’s environmental strategy across campus.

The President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment and Sustainability (PACES) will include broad representation from faculty, staff and students and is expected to begin its work in early 2021.

The reboot is part of a larger commitment that includes ramping up the efficiency of university buildings, conducting world-class environmental research and shifting part of its Operating & Endowment Fund into sustainable investment strategies with the aim, over time, to reduce the carbon footprint of the Fund.

“Sustainability needs to be embedded into how we act in the community and on the world stage,” said Lynn Logan, vice-president (operations and finance).

“It guides our thinking and actions in deciding how we reduce Western’s greenhouse gas emissions, how we manage our investment portfolio, how we conduct our research.”

Logan and Andy Hrymak, provost and vice-president (academic), are co-chairs of the renewed PACES.

The newly re-constituted committee will tackle sustainability in three broad areas: research, teaching and learning; planning, operations and infrastructure; and community and culture.

“We need to create a strategy that allows Western to stand apart and we need to make priorities and choices together. The renewed PACES will collaboratively help us to do that in a way that makes a difference at Western and in the world,” Logan said. “Western was an early adopter in developing a sustainability strategic plan in 2012 and has steadily built on that commitment.”

‘Greening’ Western’s buildings

Western has consistently increased its investment in sustainable buildings, including deep-energy retrofits to existing buildings such as the ongoing renovation at Thames Hall. Each new campus building project takes advantage of the latest energy efficiency technology.

Hrymak, former dean of Western Engineering, noted the university has committed to ever-higher standards in new construction. The Amit Chakma Engineering Building is LEED® platinum-certified for energy and environmental design and the planned new facility for Western Entrepreneurship will be a net zero energy building using geothermal and photovoltaic energy.

Significant investments in carbon reduction initiatives continue to help to reduce Western’s carbon intensity. The university also aims to recover and share waste energy between and among buildings, and has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

“We’ve always had an environmental perspective on infrastructure – but now we’re taking it up a notch,” Hrymak said. “We’re not only looking at the buildings’ environmental footprint, we’re trying to reduce waste, trying to reduce our water use.”

Academically, more than 100 Western researchers are dedicated to solving sustainability and environmental problems.

Impact and investment

For its commitment to social and economic impact, Western debuted at number five in Canada and ranked 26th in the world among 766 universities from 85 countries, according to the Times Higher Education’s Impact Rankings released in April. The Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assesses universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Western also became a signatory in June to Investing to Address Climate Change: A Charter for Canadian Universities, at the same time as its board of governors adopted a strategy that would see the university shift up to 10 per cent of Operating & Endowment Fund investments to sustainable investment strategies.

In September, 2.5 per cent of assets were invested into a renewable infrastructure fund as the first part of that strategy, Logan said.

While those separate and interconnected achievements should be celebrated, Hrymak and Logan agree the collective ideas and energy of the campus community can bring about further change.

Together, Logan and Hrymak are in the process of building the PACES committee and recruiting students, faculty and staff to join as members. The University Students’ Council, the Society of Graduate Students and the Postdoctoral Association at Western will be asked to submit representatives, and other roles are by invitation or by nomination from deans or associate vice-presidents. Three PACES working groups will allow for additional representation from the campus community.

The committee’s mandate will be to design and execute a Climate & Sustainability Strategy related to campus sustainability and improve awareness of sustainability initiatives and opportunities campus-wide.

Specifically, PACES members will help the university incorporate sustainability into academic programming; encourage interdisciplinary environmental research; and advise on reduced energy use, life-cycle management and preservation of green space.

“One thing I’d like to see in this next phase of PACES is the excitement of students in proposing different ideas, different pitches that can improve campus and the world,” Hrymak said.

This fall, in collaboration with student leaders, Western’s sustainability office launched the Western Sustainability Leaders Program, which allows students to engage with sustainability throughout the year while receiving recognition on their co-curricular record.

To help in the university’s move to continuously reduce Western’s carbon footprint, the university’s sustainability office has also launched a new survey to help keep a finger on the  pulse of sustainability at Western.

Open until Nov. 30, the survey looks to measure the campus community’s understanding of sustainability issues and seeks input on future planning, from transportation to recycling to building management.

infographic on sustainability research at Western ***

Related:

Sustainability champions honoured, June 2020

Western signs climate charter; sustainability work continues, June 2020

Green awards laud sustainability efforts, April 2019

Chakma building win ‘green’ award, November 2018

Western forges links to UN sustainability goals, November 2018