Sustainability is more than a week-long commitment

Thinking green on occasion just isn't cutting it

This week, Queen’s campus celebrated Sustainability Week, a week to promote environmental initiatives on campus. While it was nice to exchange some clothes and lightbulbs, eat some local food samples and get free coffee in a reusable, nice won’t reduce our carbon emissions by 35 per cent by 2020 — a goal outlined in Queen’s Climate Action Plan.  

Being environmentally-minded throughout the year at Queen’s can be difficult, but it’s easy to walk around campus and notice tangible ways that Queen’s could make itself greener. 

Why aren’t there any recycling bins on any of the sidewalks on University or Union Streets? Why don’t the bike lanes extend to all roads on campus? Why don’t more of the buildings on campus — other than the AMS  offices — run on green energy through Bullfrog Power? 

It’s because there isn’t a strong enough push for ambitious environmental action at Queen’s — from either the university administration or the students. 

We can all do better. 

In 2010 Principal Daniel Woolf signed a commitment to the Climate Action Plan. This spring, nearly six years later, it was published and released. If it took us six years to decide on the university’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, how far will we have exceeded them before we see a tangible, step-by-step plan of action on how we’re going to become carbon neutral by 2040?

In comparison, in 2015, UBC released a 20-year Sustainability Strategy for their Vancouver campus. They defined “sustainability” to mean “simultaneous improvements in human and environmental wellbeing, not just reductions in damage or harm.” 

They’re working towards not only reducing their carbon emissions 67 per cent by 2020 but also leading the university environmental movement by investing in green energy and academic research in sustainability. 

Why don’t we hold ourselves to the same standard?

We, as students, also need to be more ambitious in demanding and striving for a more sustainable Queen’s. We need to dream bigger and think critically about all the ways the University could be more environmentally sustainable. 

I want you to know that we have the resources to create positive change through hidden gems like the AMS’s Sustainability Action Fund (SAF).  

At McGill, the Sustainability Projects Fund — their equivalent to the SAF —  funded 92 projects worth $2.9 million between 2010 and 2013. More than 85 per cent of approved projects have demonstrated collaboration between students and staff — which is necessary for long-term or multi-stakeholder projects. 

Examples of this include their “Preserve 2 Go” program, a collaborative student-staff effort that implements reusable to-go containers at food establishments on campus.

If the SAF capitalized on better collaborations with academic or university departments (like the Environmental Studies Department or Physical Plant Services), programs like the ones at McGill could be well within our reach. 

So, how can we achieve a more sustainable Queen’s together? What can you, as an individual, do to help?

Support student establishments like the Tea Room that are environmentally-friendly, carbon-neutral, and 100 per cent compostable. Vote for student politicians that have strong environmental policies.

Demand the University divest from corporations that cause social injury and environmental destruction. Stay informed and incorporate environmentalism into your daily life. 

Environmental issues are better tackled with a larger, more engaged student body that actively views our campus through a sustainable lens.

Furthermore, Sustainability Week would not have come together without a handful of students who dedicate their time and energy to environmentalism at Queen’s.

Having worked alongside them for the past couple of years, I appreciate their passion and enthusiasm despite how slowly progress seems to happen. 

But progress is only possible with more student environmental leadership. Whether you join a club or start a brand newinitiative, we need more students who are willing and excited about climate action — especially ones with fresh ideas to rejuvenate some life into our student environmental movement. 

Queen’s got a little greener this past week, but I hope this is just the beginning of a new wave of climate action. 

Let’s stop playing nice and start working towards a more ambitious vision for sustainability at Queen’s.

Diana Yoon is a fourth year geography and environmental studies major. She is the Co-Chair of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change.

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