Campus Life

How one Humber department is changing the way we think about sustainability

by Alena Blanes

“We target to be a national leader for campus sustainability. And that is not a small target.” – Lindsay Walker, Office of Sustainability Manager

We’ve heard it all before. For decades, science has warned us. The melting glaciers, the forest fires, rampant inequality. It’s all around us, and whether we chose to care or not, it will affect our future.

Many find the topic of sustainability a little vague.

  • “Isn’t that just recycling?”
  • “But I always turn the lights off when I leave a room.”
  • “Do we all need to take the bus or carpool?”
  • “What about things I can compost?”
  • “And plastic straws?”

To clear up the confusion and shed light on what many consider to be humanity’s most valuable opportunity, I chatted with Lindsay Walker, Manager at Humber’s Office of Sustainability. She spilled details on all things waste management, sustainable living, student engagement, and more.

Here’s what she had to say:

 

Sustainability focuses for students and staff

 

Lindsay has been on board with the office since it formed in 2012. After leaving a role in environmental engineering which included scoping out new locations for landfills in pristine forests, she decided she wanted to be at the forefront of change. “I’ve always felt very connected to nature, having spent time in northern Ontario and growing up in BC,” she said.

After receiving a Masters in Environmental Applied Science and Management at Ryerson, she worked in the waste industry. There she witnessed the horrific reality of our consumption habits.

Since taking up the position at Humber, Lindsay says she’s, “been busy since day one.”

During her time at Humber College, Walker was a key strategist in creating the 2014-2019 five-year plan. While sustainability was one of Humber’s values already, in 2013 it also became an institutional priority that had to be reported on. This was a major milestone for the institution.

Part of the 2014-2019 Sustainability Plan included a commitment to integrate sustainability into curricula. A great step forward in this area was the development of the Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILO’s). The goal is to graduate every Humber student with an understanding of three mindsets:

  • Sustainability
  • Equity, diversion and inclusion
  • Systems thinking

 

People rallying against climate change
Photo by The Climate Reality Project

So why bother?

The world is waking up. “People are making connections to health and wellness and how sustainability is linked to everything–such as our food, our air, and our water systems. It’s all very closely related. You can’t have one without the other,” she said. It’s a common misconception that sustainability only pertains to environmental aspects.

But here’s the thing–it’s not just beach cleanups and solar panels. Sustainability encompasses our mental health, our relationships, our infrastructure, and our businesses. It’s a holistic embodiment that views humanity and the planet as a single entity. One we must work with, not against.

 

Girls holding up UN pillars of sustainability cards

Is sustainability a trend?

If you haven’t noticed, green is, in fact, the new black. And while some willingly sweep aside the efforts of eco-activism, there’s something to be said for the earth warriors. These days, the media landscape is cluttered. From politics and injustice to fake news, it’s difficult to navigate. But thanks to social media, “eco-activists” and environmentalists have the platform to push sustainability-focused agendas with governments following suit.

It’s a complex issue, however. By merely focusing on what’s trending, it invokes a marriage with disillusion–one that favours what’s “trendy” over serious, more pressing issues.

This begs the question–is sustainability a trend?

“My worry about using the word ‘trend’ is that trends end,” Lindsay argued. But there is hope. “I will say I am noticing a difference in the engagement on sustainability compared to six years ago. People are more aware.”

So, what’s the takeaway here? Simply put, being ‘eco-friendly’ may be a trend, but sustainability is a mindset. A mutualistic relationship between ourselves and the planet. And that can never go out of style.

 

Spyro the whale and students

Humber as a leader

At Humber, sustainability includes considering the environmental, social, and economic impacts of our decisions.

The Office of Sustainability continues to establish healthy contributions to the community. This includes installing refillable water stations, working with event management classes to create sustainable events, and developing relationships with partners such as World Wildlife Fund, as examples.

Many people often ask for more green bins. More green bins around campus would be lovely. Exquisite in fact. According to Lindsay, most of the green bins that exist today are contaminated. Until the campus community understands how to use them properly, it will all end up in landfill anyway. A significant amount of the material found in all the bins around campus could be compostable. “Better waste and recycling management is going to be a focus in 2019,” she said. With numbers like that, it’s no surprise she’s inclined to implement better awareness initiatives for students.

In 2018, they launched their #TakeBackTheTap campaign which encourages students to fight plastic pollution by bringing reusable water bottles to campus.

The office is also making strides with program faculties as well. This includes having conversations with various groups on how they can be more conscious. “We’re spending 2019 focused on waste. We won’t stop our #TakeBackTheTap campaign to reduce single-use plastic bottles, but we’re going to look at the rest of our waste items as our next step,” Walker said.

Improved training and in-depth education for food prep and cleaning staff are in the works too.

 

girl pouring fairtrade coffee

And what’s the deal with Fairtrade?

By now, many are aware of Humber Lakeshore’s recognition as Ontario’s first designated Fairtrade campus. But what exactly does that mean?

Right now, all coffee and tea on campus, aside from Tim Hortons and Starbucks, is Fairtrade certified. And at each cash register, you’ll find a Fairtrade chocolate choice to tame your cravings too.

According to Fairtrade Canada, “Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers.”

But it doesn’t stop at coffee and chocolate. After celebrating certification last winter, Walker says that’s just the beginning. “We will certify the North campus soon, and in order to maintain the certification, the campus has to set additional goals for Fairtrade every year. Right now, it’s just Fairtrade coffee, tea, and chocolate. But this will grow,” she said.

Despite separate administrations, the University of Guelph-Humber and Humber College use the same metrics to illustrate their combined environmental footprint.

 

And then there are the straws

In the last year, media has blown-up over single-use plastics.

Municipalities are banning them, Starbucks is phasing plastic straws out, and Kenya even boasts a $38,000 fine for anyone found using, producing or selling a plastic bag! It’s the strictest plastic ban in the world. Which makes me wonder–could a single-use plastic ban be coming to Humber?

Well, perhaps the word ‘ban’ is a little harsh.

“People don’t always respond well to bans. We’ve been trying really hard to help educate people about the harm plastics have through the #TakeBackTheTap water bottle campaign,” she said. In terms of plastic straws, Chartwells, a food provider, has agreed to remove straws on campus, except for those who request them. “We can’t eliminate them entirely, but we can let people know they are available if they need them.”

 

students engaging with Sustainability office

Students as leaders

Making a difference doesn’t have to be difficult either. According to Lakeshore VP and Founder of Going Green Toronto, Graham Budgeon encourages students to quit waiting on administration and just take the lead. “When students are at the forefront, they feel empowered to change,” he said.

As for his vision for sustainability at Humber: “It needs to be systemic,” Budgeon argues. “I’d like to see experiential learning and multidisciplinary experiences embedded into curriculum.”

Of course, it won’t happen overnight. Nothing worth fighting for ever does. But if we really want to enact change, we need the right mindset. Solar panels and beach cleanups are good. But they’re merely tools to help us achieve larger sustainable targets.

Students, staff, and faculty: Change is in our hands. And it is so greatly needed.

Want to get involved? Email sustainability@humber.ca to start making a difference. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Check out their events page for upcoming sustainable activities near you.

 

Images courtesy of Humber’s Office of Sustainability


Interested in making sustainable strides? Check out how I went zero waste for a week.

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