Student groups to present sustainability proposal to Santa Ono

Following a consultation process, UBC has listed sustainability as one of the top priorities for its new strategic plan, UBC’s Next Century. In response, ten environmentally-focused student groups have collaborated to create a proposal outlining how they believe UBC should address matters related to sustainability in the future.

On August 4, members from these groups — which include the Student Environment Centre, UBCC350 and the Environmental Sciences Student Association — will be meeting with UBC President Santa Ono to discuss their proposal.

They have also created a petition in order to garner public support.

Overall, the proposal asks UBC to display sustainable leadership in five action areas: student engagement, research, campus operations, finances and justice. 

Finance

Of these areas, the requests for finances are perhaps the most notable, as they ask that UBC make a commitment to transitioning away from investing in fossil fuels. This echoes UBCC350’s divestment campaign, in which referenda was passed among students and faculty in 2014 and 2015 respectively supporting divestment from fossil fuel investments within five years.

However, the Board of Governors in 2016 decided that the proposal did not meet its stated criteria at the time.

Divestment protestors attended the Board of Governors committee meeting in February 2016.
Divestment protestors attended the Board of Governors committee meeting in February 2016. File Kosta Prodanovic

UBCC350 Coordinator Michelle Marcus — who organized the petition and proposal — also praised UBC’s recent creation of a $10 million fossil fuel-free sustainable future fund, but she noted that this fund only makes up a small portion of UBC’s endowment.

“They are planning to add $5 million a year to that fund, so we’re asking them to continue adding and transferring money to that fund because it really aligns with their commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Other requests in the finance section include further transparency about where UBC’s investments are going, as well as partnership with other universities to share research about divestment. In particular, the research would be on how a university can divest while minimizing loss.

Other action areas

In the area of student engagement, the proposal asks that UBC consult with students on the implications of institutional decisions and further integrate education about sustainability into classes and orientations.

In research, the proposal requests further support for students and faculty studying clean energy and new technologies to develop solutions to environmental issues.

“As places of learning and research, universities have this huge potential to work on developing solutions for global issues and also sharing those solutions,” said Marcus.

“We’re asking UBC to further engage faculty and students in pursuing research on climate solutions and clean tech through funding, through collaboration, through working across disciplines in order to develop solutions ... and the commercialization of these technologies so that we can really foster a transition towards renewable energy.”

File Kai Jacobson

The proposal also seeks to advance sustainability in on-campus operations.

Their goals include eliminating non-recyclable products, proliferating sort-it-out stations all over campus, providing locally-grown fair-trade food at all campus food locations and ensuring that new campus infrastructure promotes sustainable living. In residences, the proposal wishes to see minimized energy use, water consumption, waste production and improved affordability of housing and meal plans.

Finally, the justice aspect asks that UBC assist in climate relief efforts and support sustainability projects in marginalized communities. A request to centre the voices of Indigenous communities and other minority identity groups when discussing development projects was also added.

Marcus acknowledges that these requests are challenging and that they will take a while to implement, but she’s appreciative of UBC’s openness to student voices.

“Santa Ono and the university’s administration have been super open to consulting with students and listening to us, and we’re really grateful for how much they care about the student voice,” she said.

To achieve these goals, she believes that community support at UBC is crucial in influencing the administration.

“This really requires a lot of leadership, and it requires a lot of community support to show that people are behind this and that people want the university to play a role in facilitating a transition to a sustainable world,” Marcus said.

“It was clear in the community consultations survey that many members of the community support environmental justice and sustainability, and there was a wide range of comments in there to show that they support these things.”

This article has been updated to clarify the Board’s decision regarding the proposal in 2016.