News | Sustainability and SSMU

The lessons and successes and the Five Year Plan for sustainability

Nearly halfway through its operating term, the SSMU Five Year Plan  (FYP) for sustainability, adopted in 2009, continues to be a guiding policy for the student union.

SSMU and its Environment Committee created the Five Year Plan in 2009 after a sustainability assessment of the SSMU was conducted during the previous academic year.

The document opens by stating, “The Five Year Plan for sustainability is a clear, focused, and specific plan for implementing the recommendations of the sustainability assessment and more by establishing strong yet realistic goals for achievement.”

SSMU President Maggie Knight, who was Environment Commissioner at the time of the plan’s creation, explained the formation of the FYP.

“There was an increasing interest from SSMU in making our operations more sustainable, but also increasing out leadership in sustainability issues in general on campus,” said Knight. “We did that for a while, but then felt the need for a more strategic and broader focus, so, in 2009, the Five Year Plan was developed.”

According to Knight, the biggest success of the FYP so far has been to achieve consistency within an inherently discontinuous institution.

“The plan has been good in that it has mandated SSMU in certain issues, because one of the things that we always have to deal with at SSMU is that everything that’s long term, that takes more than one year to do, relies on transitions between years,” said Knight.

One of the solutions introduced by the FYP was the creation of the full time  Sustainability Coordinator position, currently filled by David Gray-Donald.

“One of the main tasks of mine is to make sure long-term projects succeed,” explained Gray-Donald.

“There was a bit of a lack of institutional memory in the terms SSMU was running, where projects would be going along really well, and then maybe students would leave for the summer or go on exchange or get really busy with exams, so some of my position is to make sure that some really good ideas can get carried along for a long time,” he added.

Similarly, the SSMU Environment Committee, which is mandated to link external members with internal sustainability efforts, is actively trying to execute the goals of the FYP.

One of the SSMU Environment Commissioners, Aryeh Canter, explained in an interview with The Daily that the role of the Environment Committee is to “keep sustainability in the mind of the executives, keep sustainability in the actions of SSMU, and to help other green groups around campus.”

According to Knight, the FYP has not been without shortcomings.

“The resulting document is a little bit of a laundry list of projects and things that we should do, more than it is an all-encompassing strategy,” Knight explained. “So, we have a sustainability policy, and we have a Five Year Plan, and we have some other random bylaws and things that all reference sustainability, but we don’t have a unifying vision incorporating those aspects yet.”

SSMU has also had to take into account the added financial costs associated with environmentally sustainable practices. “There are lots of times where buying something more sustainable is slightly more expensive, and so of course we have to try to do that responsibly…it’s just that all these decisions have to be made,” said Knight.

“We have three projects this year,” Canter said. “We are encouraging student gardening, we are working in implementing the bottled water ban in SSMU and helping it grow bigger, and we are also working on helping reduce energy usage from students.”

According to Canter, while the future of sustainability within SSMU lies with the Five Year Plan, some of the most important efforts to attain sustainability continue to be executed by undergraduate students.