Upgrading sustainability at Queen’s

Annual College Sustainability Report Card raises Queen’s grade from B- in 2010 to B

Queen’s Sustainability Manager Aaron Ball says Queen’s has taken steps to improve its green grade.
Queen’s Sustainability Manager Aaron Ball says Queen’s has taken steps to improve its green grade.

For the past few years, sustainability has been a hot topic around campus. There have been clubs formed, documents signed and policies written. According to this year’s Green Report Card, these initiatives seem to be working.

The annual College Sustainable Report Card, released on Oct. 27, is created by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. It’s used to measure the sustainability of over 300 post-secondary institutions in
North America.

Queen’s has stayed in the middle of the Canadian rankings, but has moved from a B- to B grade. Queen’s Sustainability Manager Aaron Ball said the grade improvement reflects Queen’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

“It’s an indication that the university as a whole is on the right track in terms of sustainability,” he said. The Report Card operates by using survey data and dividing it into nine categories: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, investment priorities, shareholder engagement.

Ball said that since all data is gathered through surveys, it takes a broad opinion base into account but since it lacks official numbers, it shouldn’t be considered the ultimate sustainability authority.

“[That said,] I think it does a very good job of what it’s trying to do,” Ball said.

One category where Queen’s improve significantly was climate change and energy, where the University went from a B grade to a A.

Ball said this improvement isn’t much of a surprise given the steps the University has taken to combat climate change.

On Feb. 9 2009, Prinicipal Woolf signed the Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada (UPCC). Another initiative by Principal Woolf has been to eventually stop the sale of water bottles on campus over a five year period. Ball created the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Working Group in order to deliberate upcoming targets to make Queen’s carbon neutral by 2050.

“[It’s] a clear reflection of directly what has happened this year,” Ball said. “Queen’s is in the process of coming out with a climate change plan.”

Student involvement also improved from a B to an A this year. Ball said this is due mostly to
better channels of communication between different student groups.

“Students have always been active but there’s a bit more cohesion,” he said. “The SGPS will work the with the AMS and they’ll work with our office.”

Nontheless, Ball said there are still categories which could be improved. Queen’s received a C in the transportation category for the second year in a row.

“There’s some room to improve. We’ve had some fairly longstanding transportation practices,” he said, adding that car pooling and the West campus shuttle bus are two examples.

“[There are also] supplied bike racks, 70 some odd, on campus,” he said.

He said that in order to improve the grade, Queen’s needs to raise awareness about existing transportation options.

“We might look towards further promotion of some of these alternative modes of transport,” he said. Queen’s lowest grade was a D in shareholder engagement. According to the Sustainably Endowment Institute, this category evaluates shareholder proxy voting practices, including opportunities for student, faculty, and alumni participation.

“I think as our culture of sustainability grows at Queen’s … there’s a greater and better sense of a need to incorporate sustainability into our operations,” Ball said. “That’s true of our investment team.”

Although the category of administration remained a consistent B, Ball said there were improvements made this year including the use of the Queen’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (QSAC). QSAC was created last fall, but has been put into action more this year, Ball said.

“[It’s] a formal way of getting multistakeholder involvement in sustainability on campus,” he said. “It advices … policy options and recommends the best action to take.”

Of 19 Canadian schools, Queen’s ranked eighth tied with University of Alberta, Dalhousie University and McMaster University for B.

Sophie Lubin, communications fellow at the Sustainable Endowment Institute, said University of British Columbia, University of Calgary and University of Toronto were the Canadian universities which received the highest grade of A minus.

McGill, University of New Brunswick, University of Victoria, and York University received B plus grades.

University of Guelph, Universite Laval, University of Western Ontario, Wilfred Laurier University B minus.

Carleton University and University of Waterloo ranked C plus along with University of Saskatchewan.

University of Manitoba made a C, ranking lowest.

Lubin said shareholder engagement is measured because the Sustainable Endowment Institute wants to ensure sustainability is made a priority in decision making.

“We want to see members voting with sustainability and socially conscience minds,” adding that this frame of mind also opposes policy decisions being made mainly for financial profit.

Nonetheless, schools without adequate finances were not even graded. As of March of this year, Queen’s operated on an endowment of $558 million, according to the Sustainable Endowments Institute. This is important because Lublin said schools are chosen for the Report Card based on their endowment size.

“We automatically include the [300] universities and colleges in North America that have the highest endowments …. We have an opt-in process so any university that wants to be part of it can be.” Although Queen’s may not be at the top of the endowment rankings, it’s Report Card shows it’s doing well with sustainability compared to other North American universities.

“Initiatives on campus are coming through,” she said. Any increase in grade is always really great.”

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