Student groups hopeful for progress after sustainability talk with Ono

On August 4, members from a coalition of 10 environmentally-focused student groups met with UBC President Santa Ono to discuss their proposal for how the university should handle sustainability issues in its upcoming strategic plan, UBC’s Next Century.

In their proposal, these groups suggested that the university should demonstrate its role as a global sustainability leader by making a number of progressive commitments in support of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Some examples of their suggestions include transitioning UBC’s investments away from fossil fuels, financing the university’s Sustainable Future Fund, assisting sustainability projects in marginalized communities and supporting research on clean energy and technology. 

Their proposal was also accompanied by a petition, which was presented to Ono in the form of a tree. Currently, it has garnered 271 signatures, and two new groups — Sprouts and the Land and Food Systems Undergraduate Society — have also signed on.

In an emailed statement to The Ubyssey, Ono expressed support and respect for the students’ initiative.

“It was my great pleasure to meet with the student groups on August 4 to hear their sustainability proposals,” he wrote. “[They] brought forward some innovative proposals that are worthy of careful consideration as the university looks to build on its sustainability initiatives.”

Michelle Marcus, the coordinator of UBCC350 and an organizer of the proposal, confirmed this sentiment.

“He had a lot of respect for what we were doing and encouraged us to continue doing that and continue providing feedback to the university,” she said. “It’s clear that Dr. Ono shares very similar beliefs about the importance about strong sustainability leadership and the role that universities can play in adjusting to global and environmental issues, and that he definitely wants to continue working with us and to support our efforts.”

However, since the development of the strategic plan is still in its consultation stages, which involve meetings with other experts and stakeholders, Marcus said that Ono was not able to make any commitments. She also noted that he didn’t highlight any part of the proposal as particularly noteworthy — a feed back that would have been of great interest to the student groups.

Nonetheless, Marcus believes that Ono’s interest in the proposal suggests that it will have a strong influence on the upcoming strategic plan.

“He did say that he thinks the things we were proposing are clearly important for the community, and that there’s things the university can act upon,” said Marcus. “He definitely believes that a lot of what we included in our proposal would be incorporated into the strategic plan because it is such a high priority for the university community.”

Their petition was presented to Ono in the form of a tree.
Their petition was presented to Ono in the form of a tree. Alex McLean

Specific Issues

On the topic of divestment, Ono said at the meeting that while he supports the work that UBCC350 has been doing, he is not a voting member of the Board of Governors — the governance body that ultimately handles the university’s investments.

Regardless, he still plans to share their views with the Board, and believes that the strategic plan will have an influence over investment decisions despite not directly outlining them, according to Marcus.

She said there has been a shift in atmosphere around the Board of Governors in regards to the divestment movement.

“The Board has been much more open and transparent and willing to hear from us this year than in previous years. So I expect that that will continue and that [Ono] will continue to support the divestment campaign.”

Ono also discussed the importance of working with Indigenous communities.

“He said that the university has a lot of work to do to further relationships with Indigenous communities and to really learn from them and work together,” said Marcus. “He said that Indigeneity and sustainability are clearly priorities for the UBC community, so he was pretty confident that the university will be furthering work in that area.”

While no future meeting has been set up yet, Ono has invited the student groups to meet and work with him again.

“He really gives this open invitation for us to be honest about how our perspectives on the university’s sustainability leadership, and he invited us to continue meeting with him to talk about these priorities we’ve laid out in our proposal and how the university can more specifically accomplish them,” Marcus said.