Doing the right thing

September 30, 2016

Office of Sustainability ready to take on the world

Since its creation in 2010, MacEwan University’s Office of Sustainability (OS) has seen a variety of sustainability champions come through its doors.

The most recent is Kalen Pilkington, who joined the university as the sustainability coordinator in the fall of 2015, and has spent the past several months developing her team and the office’s presence on campus.

The OS has grown to a team of three, including Kalen, Kerstyn Lane (outreach and engagement coordinator) and Anna McMillan (communications specialist).

Now, the team is ready to affect positive change at the systems level.

“We're a small team, and we really want to empower people across campus to take initiatives and run with them,” says Kalen, who has worked in the sustainability industry since getting her master’s in environment and sustainability in 2011.

“I want staff, students, faculty and community members to be able to use us as a point of connection: a place where they can meet likeminded people; an area where they can be inspired to work on projects and find some collaborators they might not have necessarily thought of before.”

The team spent the 2015/16 school year restructuring some of the office’s goals, with one of their first priorities being to grow the culture of sustainability on campus.

“Right now, there are pockets of people who really care and want to do things related to sustainability,” says Kerstyn, who got her start in sustainability at the University of Alberta. “There's also a lot of potential to grow our network on campus between student groups and clubs, professors and research assistants, and university staff.”

All three members of the team found their passion for sustainability while in high school or university, and they hope to be able to provide similar opportunities for inspiration to the students, staff and faculty members of MacEwan—and they think they’re off to a good start.

The past year has been a big one for sustainability on campus. Working with a variety of collaborators, the OS was involved in establishing an urban beekeeping project, the first-ever interdisciplinary sustainability course at MacEwan and a speaker series, in addition to creating a variety of volunteer opportunities for students.

All of these projects contribute to another goal of the OS: to change the way people think about the concept of sustainability. Instead of viewing it strictly from an environmental lens, the team wants to expand the scope to one that includes cultural, economic and social sustainability.

“To me, sustainability is a balance of social equity, cultural continuity, economic prosperity and ecological health—and all of that is working towards well-being,” says Kalen. “That can be well-being for the individual, for the institution, for the community, for the ecosystem.”

For the OS team, it means ensuring the university operates in a manner that will ensure it continues to pursue well-being for students and the community as a whole.

Still, that definition might be a little overwhelming for some.

“Sustainability is such an ambiguous word, but in its simplest form, it’s about doing the right thing,” says Anna, who is studying journalism in the Bachelor of Communication Studies program. “It means choosing to bike to work instead of driving. It means not being frivolous with money. It means respecting diversity and inclusivity.”

For now, the OS will continue to shift perspectives on sustainability by encouraging a conversation on the concept in an academic environment.

“Students, academics and staff typically have a mindset that is open to exploring future possibilities,” says Kerstyn. “The university gives us space to tackle challenging and forward-looking conversations in a safe way. It’s a space where we can handle controversial topics and debate them rather than limiting ourselves to one side or the other.”

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