Into that breach has stepped the Sustainability and Education Policy Network, a six-year research program involving eight universities launched last year through a $2-million partnership grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, with additional funding from the David Suzuki Foundation, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and other partners.
Marcia McKenzie, the network director as well as director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Sustainability Education Research Institute, says the network will examine policies and innovations that offer “the most promise for enabling educational change for a more sustainable future.” The network is looking not simply at facilities’ operations, such as LEED buildings and waste recycling, but also at approaches to curriculum, research activities, institutional governance and engagement with the community.
“So far we have found very little in terms of any policies or mandates specifically around community engagement,” she says. “We are trying to help institutions to engage at a deeper level beyond just the on-campus initiatives and to look at sustainability more broadly.”
The first stage of the group’s work focussed on institutions’ stated sustainability policies. Of the 220 postsecondary institutions examined – all of them members of either the Association of Community Colleges of Canada or the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada – 83 had some form of policy, she says. Also, 67 have had an environmental assessment of some kind and 77 have a sustainability office or officer.
Quebec had the highest percentage of institutions with sustainability policies, at 84 percent. That’s because they’ve been mandated to do so through the province’s environmental sustainability act. The next highest province was British Columbia, at 67 percent, with the other provinces trailing well behind.
The next step for the network is to do an in-depth analysis of the policies, the terminology used and what the policies set out to do. Ms. McKenzie says, “We are also looking at their high-level general strategic documents to see how other parties at the university may be supporting or acting as a barrier to sustainability being taken up.”