As I reflect back on another academic year marked by the pandemic, I cannot help but consider how we – as a community of leading researchers, scholars, students and innovators – can bring our collective resources to bear on preventing disruptive global crises in the future. We know, for example, that many of the root causes of the climate crisis – including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, waste mismanagement, water shortages and energy use – also increase the risk of future pandemics, and that universities like York play a critical role in addressing environmental sustainability issues such as these.
At York, the desire to build a more sustainable future underscores everything we do, which is why our University Academic Plan includes a challenge to elevate our contributions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The actions we have already taken to support this commitment continue to strengthen York’s reputation as a global leader in sustainability: in April, we were ranked one of Canada’s Greenest Employers for the 10th consecutive year, and that same month, we were also recognized as one of the top 35 universities in the world for addressing the SDGs as part of Times Higher Education’s 2022 Impact Rankings.
These successes can be attributed in part to the fact that we treat our campuses as “living labs” where we can test out new ideas that advance social, environmental and economic outcomes. Following our Sustainability Strategy, for example, we are embedding a wide variety of environmental sustainability initiatives directly within our operations, including energy efficiencies and deep retrofits; a zero-waste program; green buildings, grounds and landscaping, transportation and mobility; and locally sourced and fair-trade food offerings. And, through innovative projects like our Maloca Community Garden, we are providing spaces to further both our experiential education and our environmental stewardship opportunities. These initiatives and others also support our ambitious commitment to achieve carbon neutrality in or before 2049, in alignment with the Paris Agreement and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
York’s transformative research, teaching and learning activities also continue to further our impact on environmental sustainability issues. Through York’s Catalyzing Interdisciplinary Research Clusters program, for example, we are investing more than $8 million over the next two years to strengthen interdisciplinary research excellence in areas of strategic importance, such as Disaster & Emergency Management and Disaster Risk Governance. And, through experiential learning opportunities such as our interdisciplinary Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom program and our eco-campus in Costa Rica, we are enabling students to work collaboratively and gain hands-on experience in solving real-world sustainability problems.
As the urgency of the pandemic shifts into a renewed focus on securing our social, economic and environmental future, universities are needed more than ever to provide leadership in guiding transformative action, and to establish bridges with partners across institutions, sectors and borders and maximize our collective impact. York is committed to bringing all our resources – from our people to our teaching, research and scholarship expertise – to help ensure a fairer, more just and more sustainable future for all. ■