Making the office potluck vegetarian, not overfilling the kettle, using rechargeable batteries or choosing organic coffee at work are all small sustainable actions in themselves, but together they can make a big “Green Impact.” That’s the premise behind a pilot program that saw 14 teams of employees at MacEwan University competing for bronze, silver or gold Green Impact certification. Choosing from lists of hundreds of bite-sized actions, teams racked up a total of close to 700 greening actions in only four months.
“We’ve had a fantastic response to this pilot project that far exceeded anyone’s expectations,” says Emma Shipalesky, sustainability coordinator. “Our goal was to have 10 teams complete the program and for maybe seven of them to achieve bronze. We didn’t expect any teams to qualify for silver or gold.”
In reality, every team met the criteria to receive certification and the final count had seven teams with bronze, five with silver and two with gold. “Green Impact was founded in the United Kingdom and we’re the first international post-secondary to participate in the program,” says Emma. “It was so successful here that we’re being used as an example for best practices at other universities.”
Starting with staff, including students
Although sustainability is everyone’s responsibility – after all, it’s one of the university’s eight pillars – Emma says that the importance of engaging staff and faculty can’t be understated.
“Students have an important role to play, but faculty and staff are a permanent presence on campus, so to truly embed sustainability into the culture at MacEwan University, they need to be involved. Green Impact gives people direction to start making sustainable choices and empowers them to make these positive changes while they’re at work.”
Students trained as Green Impact project assistants helped teams implement their actions and conducted environmental audits to make sure the actions reported were legit. “It was a bit of a role reversal – in some cases students were checking their prof’s work to make sure they were doing what they said,” says Emma.
A bigger picture of sustainability on campus
Just like the natural world that these initiatives seek to protect, sustainability projects at the university are interconnected. Some of the Green Impact actions link back to students’ projects that are part of the Sustainable Campus International Competition (SCIC). Other SCIC projects are inspiring entirely new initiatives on campus, including an aquaponics installation in the daycare, a Re-Love Market that will give new life to reusable household items and indoor gardens on campus.
“We have a really strong start to building a magnitude of sustainability initiatives on campus,” says Emma. “Small, positive changes have a snowball effect and all of these efforts are interconnected in a greater plan to ensure we’re doing all we can for sustainability.”
Plans for Green Impact again next year are already in the works. The program will likely run from October to March.
See the photos from the 2014 Green Impact Awards.