Get Ready for Action

Concordia’s Sustainability Action Fund Sponsors University’s Green Ideas

  • Members of Sustainability Action Fund on an environmental retreat. Photos courtesy of SAF

The greenhouse, the People’s Potato, Le Frigo Vert, the list goes on—just about anywhere you turn on Concordia’s campuses, sustainable hotspots are waiting for you to peruse. They don’t run on biofuel, however—even these green projects and others yet to be initiated need money to get started.

Enter the Sustainability Action Fund.

Established in 2007 after an energizing youth summit entitled Less Talk, More Action and hosted by Dr. David Suzuki and former U.S. president Al Gore, the fee-levy-backed student-run organization supports and provides resources to projects at Concordia dedicated to sustainability.

“We’ve funded over 150 projects in the past seven years, and we’ve given out close to half a million dollars in project funding,” said Mikayla Wujec, a Concordia geography alumnus and SAF’s chief executive officer since August of last year.

“What’s really great about the fund and something that I really enjoy is that there’s a seriously crazy diversity of projects. […] It’s really neat to see all the different things that are emerging at Concordia and how successful they’ve really been.”

Along with sponsoring endeavours such as Divest Concordia and biodiesel initiatives, SAF also has an eye on community-based, educational and social justice projects as well.

“It’s funny, the majority of our projects usually fall within the social justice community and education and research categories, even more so than the energy, technology and environmental categories, which is a bit unusual because you wouldn’t necessarily think that,” Wujec said.

“But especially at a university like Concordia, where there’s such amazing student presence and a really strong activism within the community, we at SAF and our board of directors really feel that it’s important to create these spaces to educate people on issues that affect the long-term health of any sort of community or population. So gender issues, indigenous issues, the whole spectrum of social justice is important,” she added.

Cinema Politica, Alternative Libraries, ASFA Talks, the Sexual Assault Resource Centre and even last month’s JMSB MBA International Case Competition are among the community-based efforts that SAF supports.

Wujec explained that while the case competition didn’t directly revolve around sustainability, the organizers behind it showed a real dedication to making the event as sustainable as possible by providing local foods, composting, ensuring competitors took shuttle buses rather than taxis and making the entire operation go paperless, which SAF was pleased to support.

“Concordia has definitely been improving over the years; there’s a lot of hope within the university, at least from my perspective, to increase the sustainability across the board.”
—Mikayla Wujec, Sustainability Action Fund CEO

Power to the Students

For Concordia’s overall sustainability, Wujec said Concordia has shown tangible progress but still remains far from ideal. SAF has embarked on a three-year in-house project called the Sustainability Curriculum Project to gather the full scope of Concordia’s sustainability situation, and compiled their initial findings last summer.

“We did an audit of all the courses in the arts and science faculties to figure out how much sustainability is actually taught, which was a very rigorous project over the summer,” Wujec said. “And it turns out that just about nine per cent of courses have sustainability in them, and that’s social sustainability, environmental sustainability, economic sustainability […] so that’s a fairly low amount for a university.”

Wujec went on to say that in a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (or STARS) assessment, Concordia received an “F” for its curriculum.

But all is not lost: SAF has gotten a significant amount of DIY sustainability projects off the ground since its inception, powered by the will of the students to help transform their school.

“Concordia has definitely been improving over the years; there’s a lot of hope within the university, at least from my perspective, to increase the sustainability across the board,” Wujec said.

“It’s student groups, student organizations that are really setting the tone for sustainability and making all this headway for the university. It’s starting to happen where other aspects of the university are starting to hear that and really take it to heart and understand that it’s a really important issue.”

While SAF is most known for funding other organizations’ projects, the group also puts on events themselves, the most recent being the Winter Teaching and Learning Festival held from Feb. 5 to Feb. 7.

The Festival opened with a keynote lecture by Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Waterloo, who Wujec says “is potentially the smartest man I’ve ever seen.”
Homer-Dixon gave a stirring talk on climate change and the horror of “triage,” the brutal choices that doctors make on the battlefield to determine which of the wounded receive care and which are left to die.

It’s a philosophy Homer-Dixon said could be applied to entire countries in the not-too-distant future as extreme weather events, rising temperatures and overpopulation begin to squeeze the Earth’s natural resources and carrying capacity.

Sustainable Campus, Sustainable World

For those looking to get involved with SAF or pitch an idea, Wujec says all are welcome to discuss grant applications and work through the process together, and internships with SAF are available through the sustainability minor and most recently through the geography and political science programs.

“It’s a great experience for students because they get to learn about grant applications in a really supporting environment, because [our] job is to help people write a really great grant [application],” Wujec said.

“So it provides some really good hands-on experience that will hopefully be useful in the future, and then if they do get funded, it provides really good project management experience, financial accounting and things you maybe necessarily don’t even learn directly in undergrad.”

When asked about the future of sustainability at Concordia, Wujec had an optimistic vision.

“As an institution, we’re really a microcosm of a society. We’re a huge community—40,000 people—and we have a really amazing opportunity to set the bar for what it could look like to have a sustainable society and university,” she said.

“I think that SAF plays a really important role in that because we’re a specific place where you can come and start a project to further that goal.

“It’s really important to take advantage of the possibility for project coordination, the experience, and to contribute to something that will have a really measurable impact on campus,” she continued.

For more information or to get involved, email saf@concordia.ca.

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