One day in the spring of 2020, Western biomedical student Michael Wu was casting about online for a way to do more to promote sustainability at the university.
He came across a contest for a campus-based environmental grant run by World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Student Life Network. Wu had no way of knowing at the time, but applying for the grant would help launch an important partnership between WWF-Canada and Western’s Sustainability Office to help students address the dual crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, all while building their résumés.
“I thought worst-case scenario I get to practise my grant-writing skills. Best-case I get the grant,” recalls Wu, now in his third year.
He got the grant. Wu put the $1,000 prize toward organizing a native plant giveaway that saw more than 50 students not only receive a plant, but also sign up for a webinar on why and how to grow native plants, featuring an expert from WWF-Canada.
Already plugged into Western’s sustainability movement as an executive at student-run EnviroWestern, Wu reached out to the sustainability office for assistance. Mary-Lee Townsend, manager of sustainability and compliance, and Jessica Cordes, sustainability coordinator, stepped up to help run the plant giveaway and webinar.
That in turn led to a campus-wide partnership with WWF-Canada’s Living Planet @ Campus, a program designed to help students bring environmental sustainability and conservation activities to fruition both on campus and in their daily lives. Students can participate in group initiatives or self-guided activities to address issues such as biodiversity loss and climate change. So far, over 18,000 students from over 180 campuses have taken part in the national program.
The Living Planet @ Campus program at Western provides opportunities for learning, collaboration and professional development. Students can contribute to positive change by participating in campus clean-ups and Earth Hour, creating habitats for wildlife through native plant gardening, and applying for funding to kickstart their own projects that help nature thrive.
Western’s sustainability director, Heather Hyde, said more than 250 students had signed up even before the partnership deal was finalized in February 2021. There are now just shy of 300 registrants, and it’s not just students studying environment and sustainability but also nutrition and dietetics, English language and literature, mechatronics engineering and many other disciplines.
One of the first initiatives out of the gate was a series of sustainability-themed webinars run with help from medical sciences students Brian Yang and Brittany Lau and global commerce student Grace Farrow. Topics have included waste-reduction strategies and sustainable food, drawing roughly 60 students per session.
While the pandemic has prevented students gathering in person, WWF-Canada’s Living Planet @ Campus program is still a great way for them to engage with sustainability on campus and in their own lives in a virtual setting, said Hyde.
Next year, as restrictions lessen, she hopes her office can offer more in-person experiences.
The program is not just about one-off events: students can earn WWF-Canada’s Living Planet Leader certification, a self-guided designation that can be completed over the course of their post-secondary education. They receive a certificate, are listed on the Living Planet @ Campus website, and can include the WWF-Canada certification on their LinkedIn profiles and résumés.
Wu likes the idea of getting a formal certification, but said he would have signed up regardless. He credits his mother’s sprawling backyard garden for setting him on the path toward environmental activism.
“My parents don’t work in the environmental movement, but they’re passionate about the environment – reusing things in the garden and reusing containers,” he said. “Watching them really motivated me. I’m not an environmental sciences student, but that doesn’t preclude me from being an environmental steward.”