Thinking about the planet can lead to profit & benefit our futures

Queen’s can become a global leader in fighting the climate crisis

Professor Steven Moore touches on the many ways in which the University and community can integrate green practices.
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Teaching both business and environmental studies offers a unique perspective on the intersections of business and sustainability. One thing has become clear from my experience doing exactly that: it’s time to look into the future of Queen’s and our students in a green way.

According to the University’s Strategic Plan, Queen’s vision is to “be recognized as an innovative, inclusive and rigorous community of learning and discovery that is committed to serving as a national resource for the betterment of our global society.”

Our University should implement a series of climate initiatives in order to do just that.

Through changes such as retrofitting old buildings, divesting from fossil fuels, holding campus businesses to green standards, and adopting the practices and ethics of Indigenous groups, we can become a national leader in the climate crisis.

The Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) proposals are thoughtful student ideas that make both business and social sense, making them valuable to the Administration. Queen’s should carefully consider them, so we can be known as one of the world’s most progressive, forward-thinking universities.

To start, Queen’s could reconsider our campus infrastructure.

It’s a smart business move to transform long-term liabilities into assets. Our campus boasts gorgeous historic buildings with evocative exteriors and interior charm. The buildings have been and will be with us a while, and they can be greatly improved. Currently, some of these buildings are annual liabilities, because of all the money required to keep them operating. However, they could be outstanding assets.

Let’s put the focus on retrofitting our existing buildings. If the Rocky Mountain Institute can retrofit the Empire State Building with a three-year payback, retrofits clearly make both practical and environmental sense for institutions.

According to Lancaster University, 13 per cent of the world GDP is what it would cost to keep a global temperature rise this century within 2 degrees Celsius. Those few degrees are widely considered to be the tipping point for catastrophic climate consequences.

If we assume that this portion of GDP can be spread out equally on a micro level, we can look at what can be taken from the Queen’s budget for climate initiatives, which, in 2017 to 2018, listed Operating Expenditures as just over $511 million. 13 per cent of $511 million could be $69 million per year allocated for retrofitting above other scheduled maintenance. In comparison, the budget report lists only $4.8 million for “infrastructure renewal.”

If we allocated $69 million a year to make our buildings 19th century on the outside and mid-21st century on the inside, with each producing its own energy and cleanly treating its own waste, we would be a world-renowned space able to attract academic and professional interest from all over the globe.  This would be just one more way to enhance our status among the country’s most progressive institutions.

To be progressive, Queen’s must also pursue divestment from fossil fuels.

It’s increasingly clear that fossil fuels are not the best investments. Although prudent in the last century, these investments no longer make business sense.

More than 1,000 institutions with nearly $8 trillion in assets have recently divested, including the University of California system, whose Board of Regents' investment committee wrote, "We believe hanging on to fossil fuel assets is a financial risk.”

Divestment is underway for the Norwegian Fund, the European Investment Bank, and MP Pension. Other notable divestments include the Republic of Ireland, University of Edinburgh, New York State, New York City, the World Bank, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the City of Oslo, and the World Council of Churches.

Students and faculty worry that divestment could jeopardize support and educational opportunities such as internships. I don’t think that’s true.

Companies still holding a stake in fossil fuels—including major banks like RBC and CIBC and financial institutions like BlackRock—will continue to offer internship programmes even if our school divests. It doesn’t make practical sense for them to turn their backs on a subsidized public university providing education, evaluation, and a steady stream of potential employees.

Beyond businesses outside of our university, we also need to look within our own campus.

I often see Tim Hortons and Starbucks cups lying around unrecycled, creating a huge source of waste on this campus frequently seen as unavoidable.

However, after their decision to adopt compostable material and provide sites to dispose of cups, I don’t see Tea Room cups littering the campus in the same way.

We need to practice what we preach and teach. If commercial businesses want access to our campus market, they should at least adopt the same climate-friendly policies maintained by student-run operations. This may even allow local businesses meeting our high standards to enter our campus market. That, in turn, would allow Kingston business owners to keep revenue here and strengthen our Queen’s community, instead of losing it to a head office outside Kingston. 

Finally, admitting the validity of Indigenous knowledge as well as the terrible injustices that have been visited upon Indigenous groups, would put us on the map here in Canada and could be a model for the world.

Integrating Indigenous sensitivity and their partnership with the natural world into our institutional practices and our curricula could do a lot to enable us to better interact with our surroundings.

For instance, here in Kingston, we have unique access to Lake Ontario. If we listened to those who have stewarded the lake for centuries by attending protests in solidarity, participating in discussion circles, and learning to listen, we could take better care of it. 

Indigenous partnerships throughout Canada have the power to teach valuable sustainability practices. Indigenous peoples have known the importance of conservation and respecting our natural resources for a long time.

Unfortunately, those Indigenous groups are constantly silenced and ignored when they speak out against violations of their land rights. We miss out on necessary education when we suppress their voices.

Biting the hand that feeds us—the natural environment that sustains us—is neither a productive social nor a valuable business attitude.

With a fresh approach, we could be recognized for our innovative, inclusive, and rigorous community of learning. We can do this for the future of all of us.

I used to be a member of the Queen’s Carbon Action Plan Advisory Committee, the Queen’s Carbon Action Plan Curriculum & Research Committee, and the Queen’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. Groups like these need to start working towards making real change, and so do all of us as individuals.

Principal Deane, let’s all start this conversation.

Professor Steven Moore teaches Sustainability at the Smith School of Business and Ecological Economics at the Queen’s School of Environmental Studies.

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