Student leaders at Western are helping to drive sustainability work, tackling everything from food waste to renewable energy use across campus.
Green clubs and societies gathered at Weldon Library for a sustainability fair on Oct. 12 to share their work, recruit new members and network with other environmental advocates.
“Connecting us for more joint events and working together is important, because we’re all working toward the same goal,” said third-year business and political science student Elline Zhuge, who volunteers with the Western chapter of WaterAid.
The Western Environment and Sustainability Network links roughly 30 groups across campus. More than half of those were represented at the fair. The first network meeting of the school year was held the same day.
“The main goal of this event is to give students an opportunity to come and learn all the ways they can get involved with sustainability,” said Jessica Cordes, engagement coordinator in Western’s Office of Sustainability, which organized the event.
“It’s a one-stop shop to find all the student-facing sustainability efforts. I think it’s also comforting to see all these groups are focused on sustainability, given the climate grief and eco-anxiety people are facing.” – Jessica Cordes, engagement coordinator, Office of Sustainability
Through the Western Sustainable Leaders Program, the Office of Sustainability also offers frequent events for students featuring guest speakers, nature and art activities, and opportunities to network.
Dozens of students filtered through Weldon’s community room on Oct. 12 to meet with the executives of student-run clubs and learn about campus-wide sustainability initiatives.
It’s a big focus at Western, where sustainability is a key pillar of the university’s strategic plan. That commitment is driving big changes, including a new electric boiler – expected to trim thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions once installed and operating – and initiatives to plant native species, protect green space and encourage greener ways of working and moving on campus.
The university has pledged to reduce emissions 45 per cent by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, and achieve net-zero emissions on campus by 2050.
That strategy is important to fourth-year medical science student Arya Chadha, who attended the sustainability fair.
“I wanted to see what Western is doing to help the environment, especially since we have such a big campus,” he said.
“I want to know we have some sort of goals – tangible goals – we’re trying to reach. Reducing emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, that’s a specific, achievable goal, rather than just (a vague pledge to) ‘cut emissions as soon as possible.’”
Spotlight on: Student Energy
Student Energy, a youth-led organization with chapters at universities across the globe, advocates for the use of more green power across campus and further afield.
“Even beyond Western, it’s about holding people accountable. Institutional leaders, whether that’s energy companies, politicians at all levels of government, those change-makers are really going to facilitate the changes to a net-zero future,” said Rayan Adatia, a third-year political science student.
“We are the young people who are going to inherit this planet, so it’s vital we hold them accountable.”
Reducing waste is another key target. Student Energy leaders said they’d like to see more education and awareness about garbage and recycling, especially in residence, to ensure students are actively working to create less trash.
Spotlight on: FRESH
What’s more appealing than free food? FRESH, Food Resources and Education for Student Health, serves up goodies to students living in residence at Western, bringing cooking demonstrations, nutrition education and food literacy training to young people.
“We want to make Western the healthiest campus in Canada,” Samantha Fung, a second-year student in nutrition science at Brescia University College, said of the club’s goal.
That includes boosting healthy food choices – like bumping up the fibre in smoothies by including cauliflower – but also reducing food waste.
FRESH is a student-run club and partnership between Hospitality Services and Brescia.
“We teach the students to make their own crepes, protein balls. We teach them how to cook and have more food skills, especially once they’re out of residence,” Fung said.
Spotlight on: WaterAid
WaterAid is a non-profit organization working “to provide clean and safe drinking water to everyone, everywhere,” and ensure people worldwide have access to proper sanitation, like toilets, said fourth-year Ivey student Megan Somerville, a member of the Western chapter of the club.
The group hosts fundraisers and awareness events, raising money through movie nights and Valentine’s Day flowergrams, and giving students a chance to learn from key players at sustainability conferences and panel discussions.
“The water crisis in Canada is really impacting Indigenous communities,” Somerville said, noting the club runs at least one Indigenous-focused water event each year.
The tight-knit nature of the club is great for making connections and friendships, she added. WaterAid hopes to encourage students to embrace green choices everywhere they can.
“Making sustainable options as available and easy as possible is key,” Somerville said.