Assessing the current state of sustainability is vital for objective and meaningful strategic planning. The Sustainability Office’s assessment process included qualitative and quantitative measures to evaluate our current performance and future potential. The process, outlined in the following sections, allowed us to understand Laurier’s culture and administrative functioning, as well as operational materials and energy flows, preparing us to establish robust goals and action items.
Laurier’s Sustainability Office participated in a series of stakeholder outreach events over a one-year period in order to guide the direction and focus of the plan. Firstly, a meeting was convened comprised of the most active sustainability leaders on campus, including students, staff and faculty, before hosting an open invitation to the public via design labs which were facilitated by SIVC at the Waterloo and Brantford campuses. During the subsequent summer months, the Sustainability Office launched a social media campaign to advertise the feedback survey to further inform the Sustainability Action Plan. A feedback survey was also promoted as part of stakeholder engagement. Finally, key stakeholder groups were consulted, many through a series of meetings, in order to solicit feedback from Laurier groups that are invested in sustainability.
Assessment tools were used to measure the state of sustainability at Laurier. The previous Sustainability Action Plan’s objectives and indicators (such as waste diversion rate and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction) and corresponding annual Sustainability Reports provided a progress report on previous goals, achievements and failures. This review of previous progress helped to inform the development of new goals and areas of focus.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) provides a comprehensive picture of college and university sustainability status, which is subscribed to on an international level. The STARS framework is the most comprehensive post-secondary sustainability framework available and in addition to providing key benchmarking and baseline data, it showcases contemporary sustainability trends in our sector. Our most recent 2013/14 STARS assessment achieved a Silver Rating. Together this process informed and guided the development of the Sustainability Action Plan outlined in this plan.
The Sustainability Office works to support the core mission and goals of the university, as directed by the Strategic Academic Plan (2015-2020). Projects organized and managed through the Office focus on improving and creating student services and success, while simultaneously contributing to a resilient organization and community. Academic excellence, experiential learning and diversity are the core pillars guiding us to 2022. Laurier has committed to these pillars in its Strategic Academic Plan. Sustainability efforts align naturally to three core pillars and the Sustainability Office will continue its contribution as reflected in the goals and action items outlined in this plan.
Advancing Academic Excellence: Identify academic programs (or sets of programs) that exemplify academic excellence and Laurier’s strengths in experiential learning, pedagogical innovation and community engagement. Leverage these program strengths to build impact as a comprehensive university. Sustain, leverage and enhance our sector-leading and differentiated academic programs.
Expanding Experiential Learning: Build an intentional structure of experiential learning connected to program learning outcomes, which are connected to the “communities of interest” critical to Laurier’s graduates.
Enhancing Diversity: Build a diverse 21st century university by educating a larger proportion of students from outside the traditional cohort of Ontario high school graduates.
Laurier’s existing Energy Management Plan was created in 2009 and is a reference point for our current and future efforts in carbon mitigation, energy efficiency and deferred maintenance. However, it is out of date. Throughout 2018 and 2019, we will be developing a new and ambitious Carbon Reduction Roadmap and Energy Management Plan that will outline our short-, medium- and long-term GHG emissions reduction targets.
Our most recent Campus Master Plan confronts the challenges and opportunities of our urban campus, such as parking, connectivity and accessibility. Focusing on smart growth principles of intensification and adaptive reuse, the plan recognizes the need for progressive urban planning to create a strong and unique sense of place that focuses on the pedestrian.
In September 2015, the United Nations adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity and equity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) comprise a shared global vision and framework of sustainable development priorities to 2030. A critical role is played by universities in addressing global challenges and achieving the SDGs. Through teaching and research, universities have a responsibility to prepare the next generation of leaders to be able to understand and meet these global challenges. Universities also play a vital part in finding solutions to increasingly complex global problems and pioneering technological innovations through their own operations to set an example for others of social, economic and environmental sustainability. We are already seeing momentum in the area of SDGs from public, private and non-profit entities as a way to frame efforts of sustainable development and will join external initiatives further investigating the place of SDGs and how they may fit within the academic, operational and community scope of sustainability at Laurier.
External compliance protocols have increased regularly over the last few years and now include annual requirements from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Ministry of Energy and the Council of Ontario Universities. We also voluntarily report on our GHG emissions reduction to the Sustainable Waterloo Region’s Regional Sustainability Initiative.
Also represented in our AASHE STARS results are two areas of focus for this Action Plan: academics and sustainable investments.
STARs criteria in the academic section are comprehensive and include sustainability in the curriculum, sustainability learning outcomes, undergraduate and graduate degree programs in sustainability, immersive experience programs, assessment of sustainability literacy, and incentives for developing sustainability courses. We would like to advance campus sustainability by creating partnerships between students, operational staff and faculty. This collaboration will focus on innovative and impactful research projects and experiential learning opportunities. Students, faculty, staff and community partners will collaborate on projects that use campus as a living lab to advance Laurier’s sustainability strategic plans and priorities.
With socially responsible investing, STARS outlines measurement criteria for socially responsible investing, the key element of which is having an established and active committee on investor responsibility to advise the university on socially and environmentally responsible opportunities. STARS further recommends institutions use their authority to promote sustainable investing through policy and decision-making and providing a public investment disclosure of the institutions holdings. In 2016, the Board of Governors approved the formation of a Responsible Investment Working Group (RIWG) at Laurier following a recommendation from a group of faculty members that the university divest from fossil fuels. Following an extensive investigation, research and consultation period conducted by the RIWG, they recommended that the university take the following actions:
It is worth noting that the RIWG’s final recommendation of reducing carbon emissions supports the overarching focus and goals outlined in this Action Plan.
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