Letter: Who is the ‘we’ in UBC’s sustainability policy?

According to UBC’s Strategic Plan and the UBC Sustainability website, sustainability is a key commitment for the institution for the next decade. To quote the Strategic Plan directly, “UBC is an Institution where we lead globally and locally in sustainability and wellbeing across our campuses and communities.”

The question I have to ask, however, is who is the “we” being referred to? I would expect that it should include at least a majority of campus — the presidents, faculties, departments, clubs and groups. Yet, here we are, having just kickstarted the year and sustainability remains sitting on the back burner for far too many campus groups and key individuals. Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t a number of people working toward sustainable good because there are and they’re stellar. However, if UBC wants to make serious progress, if UBC genuinely wants to lead globally in sustainability and if UBC wants “we” to truly mean we, many aspects of campus will need to improve.

As it stands now, different sustainability departments — many of which work within the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) — are responsible for the development of sustainability-related plans in collaboration with other groups on campus. Hours of dedicated work go into creating these documents, but most of the time these groups do not have jurisdiction over external departments and campus partners. Therefore, these plans become mere suggestions because they are not given backing by the higher institutions at UBC.

For example, if you are to look at the 20 Year Sustainability Strategy online, you will see that the purpose is to “provide a document outlining UBC’s Sustainability vision and aspirations.” It goes into some detail about how success is to be defined come 2035 and specific strategic goals. However, there is nothing that blatantly explains how individual groups will participate, how they are to be held accountable, or who is responsible for enforcing commitment of all campus partners. So to start, “we” need a system of accountability for all key groups on campus regarding sustainable progress. Honest commitments need to be made, agreements have to be signed and consequences instilled to ensure all areas of campus are seeing sustainable improvements.

As well, “we” need sustainability to be incorporated in all key messaging across campus. Everyone, especially UBC staff members, need to be talking the talk. Advertisements, faculty newsletters and information across campus need to show students how to walk the walk. This push cannot come only from the sustainability staff within CIRS alone. Our campus has over 65,000 students, who work or study in over 70 buildings, and let’s face it, by the time you are done reading this there will likely be at least three more. UBC is huge and it is growing and “we” cannot leave a task like this to the less than 100 people who work directly in sustainability on campus — not if we are serious about this strategic plan.

I urge professors to make announcements in their classrooms, communications teams to incorporate information into newsletters and our Presidents and Vice Presidents to make mention of sustainability within the plethora of speeches they have the opportunity to share. In particular, I hope that sustainability messaging will be incorporated into the Imagine Day Pep Rally, as this year it seems that absolutely nothing was mentioned or alluded to. “We” cannot miss out of opportunities like this, when new students from around the globe are engaged and listening. It is times like these that students must be taught about sustainability to demonstrate that they are indeed a part of our “we.”

Us students are also a considerable and undeniable part of the “we.” Do not sit idle, waiting for the bureaucracy that is UBC to get itself together. Get out there and do what is in your sustainable capabilities. Actively participate in UBC sustainability whether that is by sorting your waste, joining one of the killer student-led groups, or volunteering for the Zero Waste Squad. Help by educating your friends, family and peers because humans care about those in their social circle. Or simply use your observations, recognize the progress or lack of and speak out about UBC’s shortcomings — related or unrelated to sustainability. Through conversations, Facebook posts, Ubyssey articles and basic marketing, all of us are capable of leading sustainable change.

“UBC is an Institution where we lead globally and locally in sustainability and wellbeing across our campuses and communities.” The question asked was who is the “we” being referred to? The answer: all those who are already actively participating in UBC sustainability practices. Now I’m just waiting for “we” to include at least a majority of campus — the presidents, faculties, departments, clubs and you.

Carissa Kirk is a fifth-year marketing student and former employee of the CIRS. The opinions expressed are solely her own.