Commentary  I Coordinated AUS’s Sustainability Policy. It’s Not Enough.

Climate Change from the Perspective of the AUS Financial Ethics Commissioner

On Thursday, February 27, new policies were passed by the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Legislative Council that will drastically impact departmental policy moving forward. The motion included a revised Sustainability policy and Ethicality policy, affecting all purchases from greenhouse gas emissions to labour standards.

In 2013, bylaws were passed by this same council meant to address the issues listed above, but due to a lack of both student knowledge and bureaucratic support, the ideas were never enforced. At the beginning of this year, a small team, working under AUS VP Finance Stefan Suvajac, was formed. Our goal was to create new bylaws reflecting “ethical business practices,” and we were given significant freedom as to what that would mean, and how far we could go.

The new AUS Sustainability and Ethical Procurement Plan policy is divided into two sections. The first lowers overall departmental carbon emissions, through both funding and encouraging public transport use, and mandating that all events, printing, and purchases meet international standards of sustainability. The second offsets all greenhouse gases which continue to be emitted by the AUS, its clubs, or its associations. This includes cars, rideshares, taxis, busses, and any other modes of transport reliant on fossil fuels. These are combined with the policies of my co-commissioner, Aspen Murray, who coordinated measures ensuring that the AUS abides by Fair Trade practices and ethical labour standards.

The policies were written over the course of many months. They were made after and alongside consultations with departmental executives, administration, and associations, and reflect their combined hopes and concerns. All were helpful, and most were deeply committed to the renegotiating that was taking place. If properly followed, AUS will achieve carbon neutrality in 2021, decades before signatories to the Paris climate agreement hope to achieve a similar feat.

But it’s not enough.

If properly followed, AUS will achieve carbon neutrality in 2021, decades before signatories to the Paris climate agreement hope to achieve a similar feat. But it’s not enough.

These policies were designed as an emergency response – simple, rapid, and easy to implement with sufficient funding. Our climate is facing such an emergency, but these responses are limited compared to the long-term solutions that are required. The revised policies act as a foundation for new movements to build upon. Despite offsetting our emissions, the department is still spewing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere through continued fossil fuel transport and energy use, while polluting our ecosystems with the plastic and garbage waste we create. 

Student associations’ ability to affect such change is limited. Whether in Arts, Science, or any other faculty, to alter fuel sources we use would require the support of McGill administration, who have proven intractable on these subjects in the past (their refusal to divest is but one example). Further, to alter our transport needs would require a major infrastructure overhaul on a state level. This would include new investment in public transit, and switching to renewable energy to power our electricity grid. Clearly, AUS abilities are constrained, but departmental support for sustainability movements will be essential for future growth.

But there are changes we can make, right now, to move forward in the fight against extinction. Other student associations and departments  need to put forward similar policies which neutralize greenhouse gas output and lower overall pollution. AUS itself needs to do more to address fuel sources, physical/liquid waste, and support those students who will be affected by climate change. At the same time, McGill administration must get behind the surge in green activism, to avoid being positioned against it, and prove so through rapid direct policy alterations. If AUS can do it, so can McGill. 

Campuses have become the centre of the fight against fossil fuels. With the right changes, they can also become strategy innovators within that fight. Beyond rhetoric, we need a student body galvanized into public support, always pressuring for better policies in a cleaner world. The best policies change with the times, and only with continuing collective action can we ever see their goals sus.