Laurier opens sustainability office

On Jan. 4, Laurier opened an office on campus devoted to environmental sustainability initiatives.

The office promises to work with students, staff, faculty and alumni as well as interested members of the community to improve Laurier’s impact on the environment.

A joint project between WLU Physical Resources and the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union, the sustainability office comes as a result of funding from the decision in the 2009 WLUSU elections to increase Laurier’s “green fee” to $5 from $0.50.

Sustainability co-ordinator Sarah English heads the office and hopes to continue a trend of increased focus on the environment.

“A lot of different student groups and staff are already working on things,” said English.

The office plans to form an environmental committee that will work on implementing the policies and commitments outlined in last February’s university-wide sustainability policy.

English described the policy’s major goal as “minimizing Laurier’s impact on the environment in relation to transport, food, water, energy, waste, construction and procurement.”

The Laurier sustainability policy is centred on the school’s current environmental impact as well as on the future.

As the school grows, the policy focuses on sustainable development, specifically, “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

English emphasized the office’s intention to bring the sustainability policy into effect and make good on the promises the policy contains.

She said that while the office is brand new and currently working to organize its operations and highlight existing environmental issues on campus, a primary goal is “taking that policy and making it more of an action plan and implementing the goals as soon as possible.”

In terms of what initiatives students will notice first as a result of the office’s operation, English mentioned making the campus more bicycle-friendly as well as building on existing programs related to food services. “I know that right now there are a lot of food initiatives – there’s no mention of food in the sustainability policy and we want to amend that.”

She also pointed out the recent eco-container program that charges students for a reusable takeout container rather than providing a disposable one.

When asked about Laurier students’ perspectives on environmental issues and the decision to open the office, English replied, “It says a lot; what the students have agreed to pay along with their tuition is what’s paying me to be here.”

Having a sustainability office and co-ordinator makes Laurier unique among Canadian universities. “It says a lot too because there aren’t too many sustainability co-ordinators in Canada – in all there’s about 12.”

The fact that the office exists as a result of student initiative and funding is important, since Laurier is among the few Canadian universities that have student-supported sustainability programs rather than initiatives supported only by administration.

“For students here, they want to see the administration make a few changes do something about the environment, and I think that’s a really good thing,” concluded English.