AMS passes new sustainability plan — but with ‘inappropriate’ Indigenous consultation

AMS Council passed the AMS Sustainable Action Plan (ASAP) at an online Council meeting May 13 — but since being developed in the summer of 2019, the plan came to Council with the Indigenous Coordination section missing.

The new policy incorporates the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and redefines sustainability for the AMS to implement a “full fledged modernization” of previous sustainability initiatives taken since 1999. ASAP has replaced the AMS Student Driven Sustainability Strategy, the Environmental Sustainability Strategy and the AMS Ethical and Sustainable Purchasing Policy.

All 17 of the UN SDGs have been incorporated in 6 key target areas: facilities operations, business operations, advocacy and leadership, student services, campus coordination and Indigenous coordination.

For AMS Indigenous Committee member Verukah Poirier-Jewell, the AMS’s work on that last area was lacklustre after Indigenous consultation fell through during COVID-19.

“The way they reached out to us was just really inappropriate and really inconsiderate,” she said.

Redefining sustainability

ASAP emphasizes the society’s commitment to creating positive change over three domains — environmental, social and economic — which the SDGs recognize as interconnected.

“Our new AMS Sustainable Action Plan is really a groundbreaking plan. It really just sets a brand new direction for sustainability at the AMS and also aligns us with the new industry standard for sustainability strategy by … incorporating the [UN SDGs],” said AMS President Cole Evans.

The AMS is also taking a more inclusive perspective as a result of viewing sustainability in different lenses. Namely, it’s defining ‘sustainability’ in terms of a systems approach and the three-pillar model as defined by the UN’s Brundtland Commission.

Some examples of ASAP’s proposed actions include reducing water and energy usage at the Nest, advocating for affordable on-campus housing options for students, and ensuring the sustainable operation of the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre.

Keeping accountable

Former AMS President Chris Hakim raised his concerns about ASAP’s accountability and performance tracking at the May 13 Council meeting, saying that he was “a little bit wary about the plan.”

“We’ve never been good at making sure that we’re holding [previous sustainability plans] accountable,” he said. “[We need] proper key-performance indicators helping us say how well we’re doing to meet these long-term goals.”

Councillor Danny Liu also voiced his apprehension about ASAP, saying that after annual executive turnover, the plan would be “forgotten, never to be seen again.”

Both Evans and Dani Stancer, last year’s associate VP sustainability, assured councillors that there were reliable methods in place to track the progress of ASAP.

For quantitative metrics, the team created a performance tracking sheet, which will measure everything from district energy to water usage at the Nest. For qualitative metrics, Evans said they “established a very rigid framework” to make sure the incoming sustainability team regularly updates the AMS Council.

‘Inappropriate’ and ‘inconsiderate’ Indigenous consultation

Hakim, along with a few other councillors, also raised concern that the Indigenous Coordination section of ASAP — one of the plan’s six key target areas — was missing from the document.

Stancer responded that she had reached out to the Indigenous Committee to consult on the section but that COVID-19 had interrupted the committee’s work.

“Once … school closed down, I reached out again, and [Poirier-Jewell] had said that everyone had gone home and that they didn’t want to do this until they could actually sit and meet together,” she said at Council.

In an interview with The Ubyssey, Poirier-Jewell said Stancer had reached out to her in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic about the section just as UBC began implementing physical-distancing measures.

“[Stancer] asked for us within a few days to read the policies and send them a one- to two-paged document with recommendations and amendments,” she said.

“But they asked us with only a few days in the middle of final exam season — and during [the pandemic] to make it worse.”

Poirier-Jewell also said that during this time, the Indigenous Committee was unable to get together in order to finalize this section of ASAP, as most people returned to their families or to their reserves all across the country.

Evans said in an interview that conversations with the Indigenous Committee had begun “a couple of months” prior to the plan’s approval.

“We regret if there was a feeling that this was trying to be rushed,” he said. “Our intention was to make sure that we were allowing as much time as possible for consultation on this piece of the of the plan.”

Consequently, the contents of the missing portion of ASAP have yet to be determined. There is no set timeline for completing the Indigenous Coordination section, which Evans said is to ensure proper consultation with Indigenous students.

“If that takes a couple of months, that’s great. If that takes a year, then so be it.”

Incoming Indigenous Committee Co-President Ceilidh Smith agreed with Poirier-Jewell that there needs to be improved consultation with the Indigenous Committee moving forward.

“I think one thing that I’ve really noticed in witnessing the campaigns and the election process, [is that] consultation and the Indigenous Committee was mentioned all the time,” said Smith. “And then just to see how poorly that consultation is actually happening … has been very disappointing.”

— with files from Andrew Ha

This article has been updated to include the AMS’s response to the Indigenous Committee’s comments.