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November 7, 2002 Towards a sustainable Concordia: Student proposals



by Shira Katz

Students are getting involved in an audit of Concordia’s sustainability — for academic credit, thanks to the enthusiasm of some faculty members.

Two students, Geneva Guérin and Melissa Garcia Lamarca, have been leading an inventory of the university’s environmental, economic and social practices. They set up an advisory committee of faculty, staff and students to get support.

Political science professor Peter Stoett, said, “They not only put together this extraordinary project, they also found funding for it, and showed great initiative there.” The project, called Sustainable Concordia, has received funding from three faculties, and from the Youth Environmental Network.

Funding issues are discussed at monthly meetings, where students share their audit research with the organizers. These include approximately 100 students involved in the project for course credit, as well as volunteers who joined the working group through QPIRG (the Quebec Public Interest Research Group).

For example, Brian Slack’s geography students are conducting a transportation survey this semester for credit. Andreas Athienitis’s engineering students looked at the lighting planned for the new complex. Students enrolled in Stoett’s Globalization and Sustainable Development course last term were given an opportunity to participate in the audit in lieu of a term paper.
“I like to see students get practical experience at the undergraduate level,” Stoett said. “They learned how difficult it can be to conduct investigative research. The response was positive, and some students fell in love with the project.”

Chantal Beaudoin, an international business student in Stoett’s class, conducted research on alternative “green” recycled or energy-efficient materials.

“I looked at the list of materials that will be used for the new Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex, and then tried to find green substitutes and Quebec and Canadian companies to supply them at a competitive price,” she said.

She was successful in her recommendation to FSA, the architectural firm, of a carpet company called Interface. Beaudoin also discovered alternative green materials in steel, wood, concrete, and paint, but said it was too late for Concordia to use these alternatives.

“My conclusion is that it’s better to establish green criteria before a firm is selected. This audit could make an impact on other universities who should think about green guidelines before instead of afterwards,” she said.

Geneviève Rivard, an international business student with a minor in geography, human environment, says she loved Stoett’s class. “We talked about real problems in the world and finding solutions to these problems.”

Rivard conducted research on solid waste management, and visited two companies. One was BFI, where Concordia sends their solid waste. The other was Complexe St-Michel, where Concordia sends wood, like broken chairs.

“I learned about society’s problem of over-consumption,” she said. “We have techniques to manage the garbage, but there is still too much produced. Education is the only way, and it is important to teach people when they are young.”

Tanya Aberman, a political science student in Stoett’s class, investigated the history of accessibility at the university. She looked at where students are from, and their financial situation.
“I found out that 40 per cent of students attend part-time, and I learned that Sir George Williams [the downtown university that was a parent of Concordia] has a history of giving opportunities to students who might not have had a chance to attend,” she said. “I learned a lot about Concordia and I spoke with people I might not have come into contact with otherwise.”

Valerie Sabbagh, a student in environmental geography, took an interest in volunteering when her classmate saw a flyer about the project.

“My biggest interest is water quality and usage, and I think it’s important to know where Concordia fits within the Montreal Island watershed,” she said. Sabbagh met with Sonia Ruiz, a technical officer in the Biology Department, who gave her a tour.

“I learned that contaminated substances are taken from the Biology Department to the Environmental Health and Safety Department at Concordia,” she said. “I also learned about many positive changes to Concordia’s heating and cooling system that were made by reducing the volume of chemicals used and the cost.”

Stephanie Watt, a fourth-year geography student, took an interest at the shuttle bus and the potential of using alternative fuels.

When she looked at the characteristics of fuels, emissions and energy consumption, Watt learned that the five shuttle buses at Concordia could follow the lead of some of the STCUM, which has switched some city buses from diesel, a petroleum-based product, to biodiesel. Biodiesel is more renewable, because it uses recycled greases such as vegetable oil. “They could start by blending, say, 5 per cent biodiesel with diesel.”

“I would like to see at least one shuttle bus run on biodiesel. This would get people in different departments like geography and chemistry to discuss the idea of reusing cooking oils,” she said.
Audit organizers Guérin and Lamarca will include a compilation of students’ research and recommendations, best practices, and an executive summary, all of which will be available on the Internet by March. Students in Études françaises plan to translate the documents. Students in Communication Studies are working on a Web site (http://ballista.netfirms.com), and students in Fine Arts are submitting art work.

Guérin and Lamarca have had meetings with more than 200 faculty, staff and administrators to discuss Concordia’s future. Their goal is to sustain the project by having Sustainable Concordia become a permanent organization on campus, and Stoett thinks there’s a need for a continued audit. “The broader community should see Concordia as an innovator in this area, not just responding to market developments.”

Guérin said that although Concordia is the first university in Quebec to conduct this type of audit, a network of campus sustainability assessments includes UBC, Waterloo, UVic and Mount Allison.

For more information, write to audit@sustainabilitysolutions.ca or sustainability@mail.com.