Campus collaborations build culture of sustainability at Edmonton universities

October 31, 2016

Students across Edmonton took part in Sustainability Awareness Week during the final days of October, exploring issues and initiatives linked to sustainability on campus.

Students from MacEwan University and the University of Alberta participated in the initiative and worked together to deliver some of the events associated with Sustainability Awareness Week 2016. Collaborative efforts between the two universities allow each of their sustainability offices to highlight different areas of focus, and also allows the universities to learn from each other.

“It’s beneficial for us to gain knowledge about sustainability initiatives that MacEwan University is undertaking,” says Maja Osmanagić, project planner at the U of A’s Office of Sustainability. “This allows us to potentially adapt our current programming or integrate new ideas.”

The universities shared and inspired new ideas on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River, hosting a variety of speakers, workshops and sustainability tours.

“There was a little something for everyone during Sustainability Awareness Week,” says Kerstyn Lane, the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for MacEwan’s sustainability office. “Between the two universities, we held several events, which explored how individuals and communities are making a difference locally, and around the globe. I was glad to see such a diverse attendance at these opportunities.”

Kayleigh Wiebe, another project planner from the U of A Office of Sustainability, says working with other campuses to promote and grow events like Sustainability Awareness Week helps expand the reach of sustainability education.

“Sustainability is collaborative by nature,” she said. “In order to match that inherent collaborative nature within the definition of sustainability, it’s important to reduce the silos within universities, as well as the barriers between universities. The solutions to create a more sustainable world require collaboration and require everyone to work together to reach our goals.”

Image-SUSTNOV-Collab2In the past, the MacEwan and U of A sustainability teams worked together to deliver an Amazing Race–style Earth Hour competition. MacEwan also participates in the annual province-wide Earth Hour Challenge, where students around Alberta pledge to go one hour without power.

“[Relationship building between universities] is essential because it builds sustainability awareness in higher education institutions and amongst the City of Edmonton’s student communities,” says Maja. “All institutions are working towards similar sustainability goals, so collaborating is an effective strategy for building momentum in community-wide sustainability movements.”

That momentum, however, is best created by a variety of people with different backgrounds and experiences.

“By working together, we’re providing diverse perspectives and approaches to building awareness, thereby strengthening community,” says Kerstyn. “Progress in sustainability is only made possible through approaching it holistically, and with many voices at the table.”

In the future, both MacEwan’s and the U of A’s Offices of Sustainability hope to grow the relationship between the post-secondary institutions, working on large-scale projects and sharing big ideas.

“We don’t live in a vacuum, so sustainable solutions will require collaboration, and I think that collaboration between universities will inspire creative solutions for large-scale problems,” says Kayleigh, noting how a simple phone call or email can get the ball rolling for relationship building. “Just the act of reaching out can be quite endearing and empowering. To know that other people care and are interested in engaging with you is one of the easiest ways to start a positive relationship.”

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