View from the top: MacEwan University’s tower garden makes its home in the spiral staircase in Building 6.

5 ways people at MacEwan are trying to save the world

April 23, 2019 | Campus Life

After a recent evaluation, MacEwan University has once again achieved a silver campus designation from the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS), which is administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. This was no easy feat this time around as STARS had restructured its evaluation system, ensuring more rigorous standards.

“This is a really great snapshot of our campus-wide initiatives,” says Kalen Pilkington, director of sustainability. "Moving into the next three years, we are going to be implementing new programs and working to increase our rating to gold.”

In honour of this achievement – and just in time for Earth Day on April 22 – let’s review some of the activities that people at MacEwan are doing locally to help make a positive impact on our world.

1. Sustainability Leadership Council

Students champion their own projects and gain leadership, mentorship and project management experience as part of the Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC). Students apply to volunteer — there are currently over 30 regular volunteers — and together, they pick three to five strategic priorities for the year. “Students can find areas that they’re passionate about and work on projects that are really meaningful to them, but are also connected to a larger strategic picture, so they’re actually making an impact on campus,” says Kalen.

One SLC member came up with the idea to host a free stationery giveaway because many donation centres don’t have the space or resources to accept stationery items. The giveaway was such a huge success, says Kalen, that the students are able to organize it once a semester.

2. Sustainable food systems

As a downtown university, MacEwan has focused on urban cultivators in the last few years — the tower gardens (where basil is grown in the middle of the spiral staircase) and the beehives on Building 5. “We work very closely with Campus Services and Aramark, our food services vendor, to integrate this food into what we’re delivering to students, employees and campus guests,” says Kalen. “So it’s better than the 100-mile diet — it’s the 10-foot diet!”

3. Certified green cleaning program

All cleaning products used on campus – including those used by contractors – must be green cleaning certified as verified by a third party. Why? The chemical composition in green cleaning products is a lot less harmful for the environment – and people (think exposure to off-gassing) – than traditional cleaning products.

4. Green Spaces program

Staff and faculty participate in a number of sustainable initiatives aimed at making their departments greener — like double-sided printing or turning off all electronics at the end of the day. Those things might seem small when the world is facing large environmental issues, but Kalen explains that local actions, like buying local or learning to grow your own food, have global repercussions.

“Even if it’s the smallest thing that you're doing, don't think that it’s not having a larger impact, because it really is.”

5. Sustainability fellowship

This two-day program invites faculty members from across the university to learn about sustainability and discover ways of integrating sustainability deeper into the curriculum. They walk away with the tools and knowledge to revise an existing course syllabus or create a new one. The syllabus is reviewed by a small team put together by the Office of Sustainability and if the course meets the criteria, the faculty member is awarded a stipend that they can spend on further sustainability training or for resources for their course.

“It’s really important to have sustainability in a post-secondary institution because we’re training the leaders of tomorrow,” Kalen says.

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