Many of you have heard me talk about the four pillars that underpin York’s vision to offer a broad demographic of students access to a high-quality, research-intensive university committed to the public good. Those pillars are access, connectedness, excellence and impact. When I talk about connectedness, I am referring not only to how members of the York community connect with each other and how our students connect with their studies, but also to the need for cross-sector collaboration to tackle the grand challenges we face locally and internationally.
Climate change is one of those challenges – arguably the most serious threat facing humankind. In June, the Parliament of Canada passed a motion declaring a climate emergency. In September, tens of thousands of Canadians participated in the Climate Strike, and in October, courageous activist Greta Thunberg toured the country with her urgent call to action. While climate change has been on the public agenda for many years now, the past year has seen this issue take a central place in the minds of citizens around the world.
The complexity of the problem means that no single group – not governments, NGOs, activists, businesses nor universities – can hope to tackle it alone. We need to work together across sectors and across borders to develop the innovative ideas, policies and technologies required to address the climate emergency. I firmly believe that universities have a central role to play as hubs for this kind of multi-sector collaboration, and I am proud that York University is embracing our responsibility to be a driver for change.
Our commitment to building a more sustainable world begins right here on campus. For the seventh straight year, York has been ranked among Canada’s Greenest Employers. As part of our sustainability strategy, we have reduced annual electrical consumption by nearly 35 million kilowatt-hours and recycled almost 4 million kilograms of waste. We have recently opened two new world-leading sustainable buildings on campus, the Second Student Centre and the Rob and Cheryl McEwen Graduate Study and Research Building. Our Faculty of Environmental Studies is now a key data hub for the Global Footprint Network, an international initiative that seeks to measure and monitor our impact on the natural world. York has also just launched the President’s Sustainability Innovation Fund, which provides financial support to students, staff and faculty for sustainability projects on campus.
Everyone in the York community should be proud of these achievements. But there is much more work to be done. As part of our 2019-20 key priorities, I have asked Vice President of Finance and Administration Carol McAulay to develop aggressive carbon-reduction targets for the University through a consultative and collaborative process with the entire community. When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint, I know York can lead by example.
Beyond campus, York will continue to form new partnerships with industry, policymakers and communities as we work to build a more sustainable world. The exciting thing about forging new connections is that we also directly benefit students while developing innovative solutions to urgent social problems. Through experiential and work-integrated learning – where students are partnered with employers and community groups to apply their skills and gain practical experience – we prepare our graduates to thrive in the global knowledge economy and to be the future leaders and problem-solvers our society needs.
The challenge before us is vast. Together with our partners around the world, the York community of students, faculty, staff and alumni is facing the climate emergency head-on. ■